The Best Releases of 2021 According to Cub Magazine

Still from 'The French Dispatch' (2021). Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Without a doubt 2021 has been a strange year for new releases. The cinema has seen its profits slashed on seemingly anything other than IP blockbusters, with the phenomenal success of Spider-Man No Way Home and total failure of The Last Duel. However the two biggest films of the year were not American but Chinese with the propaganda film The Battle of Lake Changjin and comedy Hi Mum, not that we’d know in the West as they’ve been virtually unseen here. Streaming increasingly takes up a large part of what audiences are watching, reflected in the phenomenal success of Netflix’s Squid Game. We’re seeing the tectonic plates of popular entertainment shift before us and who knows where we’ll end up. Here Cub has listed 15 of the best releases we’ve seen in 2021, both theatrically and at home.

Feature Films

A Quiet Place Part II

Initially set for release in March 2020, A Quiet Place Part II had the difficult task of both proving why the Abbott family story should continue and living up to the expectations that its delay had brought. As I believe Michael Caine may once have said, John Krasinski only went and ‘blew the bloody doors off’. The sequel is an unmitigated triumph, which not only establishes Krasinski as a directing talent, but also achieves that almost impossible task, of being on par with the first. With this one, Marco Beltrami’s evolving score is worth the price of admission alone.  – Will

Coda

If there were an award for the feel-good… Oh wait there is, well that’s what Sundance is really if we’re being honest. A record-breaking acquisition for Apple TV and recipient of the top prize at Sundance 2021, Coda is a drama that follows a hearing child of deaf parents, who pursues her dream of singing. It’s a charming film, the kind which you can’t help not liking and it’s filled with excellent performances (especially Eugenio Derbez). If you’re feeling down and want a pick-me-up, Coda may be the way to go.  – Will

Drive My Car

The Japanese film Drive My Car was one of the most anticipated international films of 2021. Ryusuke Hamaguchi adapts a short story from Haruki Murakami into a three-hour emotional tour de force. It’s hard to summarise what the film is about as in many ways the story events simply lend structure the emotional movements of the piece as a whole. For me it’s about the failure of human relationships when we try to understand other people by projecting our misconceptions onto them. This is a gendered dynamic; the male artist believing he can see into the mind of his female partner but only reflecting in her his own insecurities, failures and stereotypes. This artist could be the lead character Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), Hamaguchi or even Murakami, a writer often criticised for the lack of interiority he brings to his female characters. If you can, try and find this film in cinemas while it still plays. – Josef

Dune

Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel is nothing short of astonishing. It was a theatrical event that demanded to be seen on the big screen, and thankfully it was. Credit must be given to Villeneuve for having the confidence to tackle such a difficult IP and pull it off in the style that he did. Considering the sheer scale of the production and the size of the ensemble, Villeneuve perfectly managed to weave both together. If he achieves anything close to what he has here with Part II, we’ll be swept off our feet once more.  – Will

The French Dispatch

Wes Anderson made his return to live-action filmmaking in 2021 with The French Dispatch. Like his previous live-action film The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), this film is preoccupied by how we remember the recent historical past. As in the Grand Budapest Hotel he drew upon cinema of the 1930s to depict the era not how it was, but how it saw itself, he similarly borrows from filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard and Jean Renoir to give his impression of France circa. 1945-1970. Whether it completely works or not is up for debate. In the Revisions to a Manifesto segment I felt only an empty imitation of Godard’s 60s work, stripped of any historical specificity to make bland statements about youthful vitality being ultimately ambivalent to specific political aims. But that being said, perhaps without any reference to what already exists such sequences will feel fresh to new audiences. Wes Anderson’s work is still fascinating for its idiosyncrasies and is still worth seeing, even if it doesn’t quite reach the heights of his previous filmmaking. – Josef

The Last Duel

Ridley Scott’s epic medieval drama sadly failed to connect with a large audience upon its cinema release, a disappointing outcome for one of the most interesting mainstream movies of the last few years. The Last Duel is Hollywood’s response to #metoo with a razor sharp script by Nicole Holofcener, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. It captures the tragedy of the social forces which allow women’s sexual abuse to occur and its perpetrators to be protected. Whilst doing this, the film is simultaneously comedic, dramatic and suspenseful. Despite Ridley Scott’s seeming ambivalence to the human drama at play, his loose direction allows Jodie Comer to shine in her best role since Killing Eve. I highly recommend you catch up on his gem of 2021 as it now streams on Disney+. – Josef

Palm Springs

If I’m being honest, this is probably my favourite release of the year. Originally debuting at Sundance 2020, Palm Springs is a romantic comedy, set within the parameters of the time-loop sub-genre, that is destined to become a classic. Anchored by Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti’s excellent performances, it is a film that I will be rewatching for many years to come. It also has JK Simmons wielding a bow and arrow, and getting high as a kite, so if you watch it for anything, make it for that.  – Will

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

In what has been a less successful year theatrically for Marvel, (though Spider-Man: No Way Home may rectify that) with the disappointment of Black Widow and the underwhelming box office performance of Eternals, Shang-Chi really is a triumph. Through incredible fight sequences and allowing a more family-oriented story, the stakes never felt higher in director Destin Daniel Crettin’s brilliant follow up to Just Mercy. It goes to show that auteurs can make a successful blockbuster within the Marvel framework, and it is undeniably a welcome return to form for what has been a rocky Phase 4.  – Will

Swan Song

Benjamin Clearly’s feature debut asks the sort of questions you’d expect to find in a Black Mirror episode. Grounded by a melancholy and nuanced performance by the excellent Mahershala Ali, Swan Song at times is both the purest of romances and the deepest of though-provoking sci-fi. For fans of the aforementioned Black Mirror or Her and Ex Machina, you’ll be in your element with this one.  – Will

Television Shows

Call My Agent!

Over the past few years, we’ve seen the popularity of foreign language entertainment surge. This year, more than any I can remember it has exploded onto the television scene, mainly thanks to Netflix. Fanny Herrero’s excellent comedy drama, which follows the lives and jobs of the people working at a Parisian talent agency is a gripping delight. Its popularity on the streamer has led to an English language remake entering production, though I highly recommend you watch the original. It’s worth it for Camille Cotton’s cheekbones and the free French lessons alone. – Will

Dopesick

If there is one entry that I would describe as essential viewing, it would be this one. Surprisingly airing on Disney Plus, Dopesick follows multiple real-life characters through the American OxyContin crisis. It is populated by well-known faces including Michael Keaton, Rosario Dawson and Michael Stuhlbarg to name a few, and despite its revealing subject matter, it is both eye-opening and thoroughly entertaining. If you have a bone to pick with capitalist greed, or genuinely just like to see the good guys chase the bad guys, this one’s for you.  – Will

Lupin

Another French entry to the list, Lupin is a show that is utterly gripping and relentless from start to finish. Now here is a show that can rival Bond on the small screen. Omar Sy is compelling as the gentleman thief, and the multiple twists and turns that accompany each episode ensure that you remain firmly glued to your seat. I’ve liked Sy since seeing him in The Intouchables, but this is the role he was born to play.  – Will

Squid Game

I think it is fair to say, no one saw Squid Game becoming the phenomenon that it did. Netflix’s South Korean juggernaut really was excellent television. Some may scowl at its ending, but most will be eager to see the return of Gi-Hun, and no doubt Netflix will be wanting to cash in on the bonafide hit they have on their hands. It puts things into perspective for you, who would’ve thought those innocent games you played as a child could turn so sinister. This one’s worth watching for O Yeong-su’s supporting performance alone.  – Will

Ted Lasso

The football takes the back seat, with character development taking the front in this excellent sophomore season of the smash hit comedy. Despite what I felt to be a minor slump at the end, which prevented this season from surpassing the first, Ted Lasso remains the most heart-warming show on television. Special credit deserves to be given to episodes 4 and 9, looking at you Brendan Hunt.  – Will

The Underground Railroad

What if the underground railroad physically existed in 19th century America? Barry Jenkin’s adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel is a harrowing watch, but a powerful one, nonetheless. It really is an achievement, one which is best watched slowly, this is not something you can binge. Go in expecting an array of emotions set to the backdrop of Jenkin’s brutal but gorgeous trademark lens.  – Will

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