Top 15 Films of 2021 – Allen’s Picks

7) Belfast

Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast is an ode to his childhood, to the Scottish town he grew up in, and the social climate that made him who he is as a filmmaker and as a person. Featuring gorgeous black and white photography from Haris Zambarloukos, we are brought back to the tumultuous 1960s, where a working-class family must decide if they should stay in Belfast or leave to find a better life. Featuring a top-notch cast including Jamie DornanCaitriona BalfeJudi DenchCiarán Hinds, and newcomer Jude Hill, the film explores child-hood innocence coming face to face with the harsh realities of the world. Through the eyes of Jude Hill’s character, we see how the actions of adults can leave an impression on a child. It is those memories that have informed Branagh’s life, and he brings it to screen in exquisite detail.

6) Spencer

The life and death of Princess Diana was one of the most reported stories of the 20th century. In Spencer, director Pablo Larraín and writer Steven Knight choose to dig deeper, to explore the psyche of Diana as she attempts to bear the weight that is the Royal Family. Kristen Stewart adds yet another incredible performance to her resume as the late princess. Diana must alternate between the family’s Christmas holiday and the turmoil of being an outsider against her will. The result resembles that of a haunted house film. Every corridor and every room force Diana to relive the pain of a dissolving marriage and the disapproval of her in laws. And yet, to the very end she endured. This is not your standard biopic – it is an expertly crafted character study of a person fighting for an inch of control in a world trying to take it away.

5) Parallel Mothers

Few filmmakers can tell a melodramatic story as well as Pedro Almodóvar. He can take what seems to be a contrived plot and excavate true human emotions out of it. In Parallel Mothers, Almodóvar weaves a tale of two women (Penélope CruzMilena Smit) who give birth to their children at the same time. This event triggers the rest of the narrative, in which characters expose their deepest darkest secrets. But this is only part what makes the film so special. Almodóvar uses the story of the two women to touch on grander issues involving Spain and its war-torn history. He does this while maintaining his focus on character and filling the screen with bright vibrant colors. You know you are in an Almodóvar film almost as soon as you step into it – with this being one of his best in years. 

4) Passing

Passing tells the story of two African American women living in 1920s New York. While Irene (Tessa Thompson) embraces her black heritage, Clare (Ruth Negga) passes for a white woman. Written and directed by Rebecca Hall (based on Nella Larsen’s novel), the film explores identity, racial dynamics, and the compromises people make when passing as a completely different person. When one assumes the part of another race, that also means a disregard of the race they inherited at birth. Irene and Clare grapple with the personas they project upon others. Do people perceive us as we really are, or are they fooled by the facades that we create of ourselves? Do we pretend to be something else as a survival tactic or as a means of attaining wealth and privilege? This is a gorgeous looking, thought-provoking film that shows how the essence of a person is not just defined by the color of their skin.

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Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

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