In this article we compile the The Top 5 Best Films Of 2021 In The UK
The Power of the Dog
The Power of the Dog is Jane Campion’s first feature film in over a decade, the last 10 years having been mostly taken up with her hit streaming-TV series, Top of the Lake, with Elisabeth Moss. Maybe that project influenced the element of murder mystery in this latest film, whose title is taken from Psalms 22:20: “Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog!”
Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons play two brothers, Phil and George, who run a cattle ranch in 1920s Montana. Phil is a sweaty roughneck: an instinctive and vicious bully who calls his brother “fatso”, encourages the ranch-hands to mock him and jeers at George’s pretensions to fancy clothes and hats. In his self-important and self-congratulatory way, Phil is obsessed with the fact he is the one with the hands-on practical know-how to make the ranch work, unlike his milksop brother, because he learned these skills from a veteran rancher, now dead, called Bronco Henry. But Phil is also repressed and utterly reliant on George emotionally: these two grown men share a bedroom in their large house like little kids.
But which of these two is putting on airs? Who is putting on the act? The two brothers come from money: their rich, sophisticated and politically well-connected parents staked them in the business. There is an excruciating scene when the elderly couple come for dinner: George insists on dressing up in a tux. But Phil embarrasses everyone by showing up sweaty and dirty
The existing tensions between the brothers explode into the open when George reveals to Phil that he has got married, to Rose (Kirsten Dunst) the widow who runs the cafe in town and has a sensitive teenage son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), now to be George’s stepson and heir. Rose is going to move in as the mistress of the house and Phil senses the immediate loss in his own status: he subjects Rose to a hateful campaign of harassment and makes Peter the subject of homophobic bullying. But then, a strange turnaround takes place: he makes friends with young Peter and declares he will take him riding in the remote hills where he will school him in the ways of ranching and being a man – the way Bronco Henry schooled him.
Cumberbatch makes Phil a vivid and horrible monster, all the more disquieting for his flashes of intelligence and cunning. When Rose brings her piano into the big house (an irresistible echo of the earlier Campion classic) and attempts to play Strauss’s Radetzky March on it, Phil mischievously joins in on his five-string banjo, putting poor Rose off her stroke and revealing that he is, in fact, rather more musically talented than she is. But Kodi Smit-McPhee’s performance as Peter matches him in presence and potency, and the story doesn’t at all go where you think. It is a movie with lethal bite.
The Green Knight
Christ’s sacrifice and the erotic death wish of earthly glory: these are the components of this freaky folk horror from writer-director David Lowery, a mysterious and sensationally beautiful film inspired by the 14th-century chivalric poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which was written by an anonymous contemporary of Chaucer. Its creator’s identity remains a puzzle to the present day – though the film playfully hints at the question of authorship.
The story could not be more simple or more perplexing. A nobleman at the court of King Arthur is challenged by a stranger to a martial contest on Christmas Day. But the contest utterly negates or deconstructs the whole idea of manly valour, strength, courage and skill in battle. All that is required is submission.
In this film adaptation, Dev Patel plays Gawain, who must go on an extraordinary quest across a stunningly rendered landscape. Like a haunted pilgrim in something by Bergman, Gawain is to come across strangers whose own intentions are sinister. Barry Keoghan as a malign scavenger, Erin Kellyman is the spirit of Saint Winifred, whose own decapitation made her a Christian martyr; and a certain lord and lady, played by Joel Edgerton and Alicia Vikander (an eerie doppelganger of the lowborn woman he has left behind), who startle him with what appears to be a taste for medieval swinging.
There is a sensational speech from the lady of the castle about the meaning of green: the colour of nature, the colour of remorseless amoral growth, the grass that will grow out of the grave and the moss that will cover the tomb, the endless process that will make a mockery of individual heroes and their paths of glory. And there is a stunning sequence in which Gawain is robbed and bound by the scavenger and his accomplices, left to die, to rot down to his bones but then to be born again, a rebirth that happens within the blink of an eye, or within the victim’s mind, or in metaphysical parallel with his ignominious roadside death.
Gawain is being tested. So are we. The visual brilliance of this film combines with shroomy toxicity and inexplicable moral grandeur. What a stunning experience.
Céline Sciamma’s beautiful fairytale reverie is occasioned by the dual mysteries of memory and the future: simple, elegant and very moving. Joséphine Sanz plays Nelly, the eight-year-old daughter of Marion (Nina Meurisse); Marion’s mother has just died in a care home. Marion and her partner (Stéphane Varupenne) take Nelly on a difficult journey to her late mother’s home, where she grew up, and the memories come flooding back – particularly that of a secret hut she built in the woods adjoining the house. Marion is overwhelmed with grief and leaves Nelly alone with her dad.
Playing in the woods she comes across what appears to be a half-finished hut in a clearing. A girl waves happily to her, asking for help making it. She is the mirror image of Nelly (played by Gabrielle Sanz, evidently Joséphine’s twin sister) and announces that her name is … Marion. They go back to Marion’s house, an eerie mirror-image of Nelly’s mother’s childhood home. And there Nelly meets Marion’s kindly, withdrawn, thirtysomething mum, who walks painfully with a cane.
It is a ghost story, or a parable, played with realist calm. The girls talk about the future and the past as casually as they would about anything else. I found myself holding my breath for long stretches, as the young stars insouciantly saunter in single file along the narrative tightrope. I’m not being facetious when I say that this meeting of the two girls reminded me of Marty McFly’s first encounter with his dad in Back to the Future, another brilliant film of a very different type. There is something eternally strange about the fact that your parents were once the same age as you, had the same worries and fears and thoughts as you; and crucially, the same inability to see into the future – the future which is you. Making these two characters vulnerable and delicate children is an artistic masterstroke on Sciamma’s part. What a superb movie.
Drive My Car
n the year we got a ninth Fast and Furious movie, Japanese director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi gave us something at the very opposite end of the petrolhead scale with Drive My Car. You could call it Slow and Circuitous, but that would be doing his monumental, highly moving meditation on how life, art and desire intertwine a huge disservice. Vast in philosophical scope but intimate; beautifully controlled but pulsing with erotic undercurrents, it marks Hamaguchi’s emergence as a new cinematic master.
Liberally adapted from Haruki Murakami’s short story, it sees avant garde theatre director Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) mourning the death of his wife Oto (Reika Kirishima) – whose infidelity he had just discovered. Accepting an assignment to direct a new multilingual production of Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima, he reluctantly consents to being chauffeured around by the taciturn Misaki (Tôko Miura). Every morning on the way to the theatre, he listens to a cassette recording of Oto’s voice running his lines. In taxing rehearsals, he encourages the actors to surrender themselves to Chekhov’s text – including Oto’s bad-boy former lover Koji, whom Kafuku has cast in some form of punishment as the self-doubting Vanya. Willingly or unwillingly, everyone is a passenger on a journey here.
Hamaguchi has been circling these themes for years – since his graduation feature Passion and on into the acclaimed Asako I & II: the ebb and flow of art and life, the revelatory effects of role-playing, how desire sculpts our identity from within. But in Drive My Car they all flow powerfully into each other: grieving for Oto, who used sex to unleash her creativity, Kafuku begins to confide in Misaki, and their new intimacy starts to dislodge her secrets. Using driving as a brilliantly concise metaphor for how storytelling, acting and loving all draw us towards unknown destinations certain to change us, Hamaguchi orchestrates his ideas with a cool and elegant insistency. Drive My Car’s red Saab 900 – weaving quietly through Hiroshima, and the expressways and byways of the human heart – deserves to be up there in the iconic movie symbol stakes with Rosebud the sledge.
The big story of the start of the year was Nomadland, Chloé Zhao’s soulful follow-up to 2017 breakout The Rider. That film received a belated UK release in May, a month after Nomadland swept the board at the Oscars, taking best picture, director and actress.
Both films see the Chinese director immersing herself in a rural American subculture so seamlessly that one would assume she’s always been there, an outsider who chooses to listen first with patience and grace. A loose adaptation of Jessica Bruder’s non-fiction book, it follows Fern (played by Frances McDormand), a widow whose home town has died, one of the many industrial fatalities of the 2008 recession. She’s been displaced (her town’s zip code was discontinued in 2011) and so decides to pack up, take her most important belongings with her in a van and go on the road.
Nomadland subtly captures a profound snapshot of America
The “houseless but not homeless” community that Fern encounters and slowly becomes a part of is one that, for many, will be fascinatingly new and in her process of revealing this under-reported world to us, Zhao employs real nomads to tell their stories alongside McDormand. Their involvement, and their words, help to ground the film, often making it feel like we’re switching between a documentary and a narrative feature (the breathtaking cinematography from Zhao’s three-times collaborator Joshua James Richards reminds us it’s the former).
Coming straight from Three Billboards, outsider art in all of the wrong ways, McDormand is remarkable, deftly ingratiating herself with those around her without ever seeming like an Oscar winner slumming it with normies, a turn as sensitive and as unpatronising as the film surrounding her. Her emotions are restrained but her predicament, told gradually and in fragments, is at first devastating and ultimately liberating, speaking not only to those who have been left gutted by corporate culture but also those who are single or childless or over 60 or seen in any way as “other”. It’s a film about regaining power after feeling powerless, not by taking on the system but by removing one’s self from it entirely (scenes of her briefly returning to “normal” society have us as anxious as she is for a return to the safety of her van and the freedom of the road).
Without overstating its themes, Nomadland subtly captures profound snapshot of America. The confines of a cruel economic infrastructure might limit the space for some people to exist yet the sheer expanse of the country allows them to find their own space instead.