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WTW's top movies of 2021: we pick our favorites

Best movies 2021
(Image credit: MicroStockHub)

Here are the movies we've loved watching in 2021. 

You might disagree with our picks! But, one thing we can all agree on is that it's been wonderful to finally return to the cinema after very few chances to go the previous year.

Obviously, we’ve not seen everything and this is very much our own view. We’ve also picked our top TV shows for 2021.

Here our writers reveal their favorite movies of 2021…

'No Time to Die'

James Bond gets an enemy in his crosshairs in 'No Time To Die,' the 25th film in the 007 series, and Daniel Craig's final installment as the superspy.

(Image credit: MGM)

No Time to Die was an event. It was a wonderful experience to sit down in a packed cinema for the first time in forever and feel the sense of anticipation swell as the iconic theme tune kicked in. No Time to Die was the last time we’d see Daniel Craig in the gun barrel opening sequence. And Craig delivered one final magical performance as 007, reinforcing his position as the only true challenger to Sean Connery’s Bond. 

OK, No Time to Die wasn’t the best Bond movie. That ending wasn’t exactly the pick me up the world needed and the plot was crazy. But, there was still plenty to enjoy. And whoever the next James Bond is they have one hell of an act to follow. Long live James Bond. - David Hollingsworth

'Dune'

Dune stars Zendaya and Timothee Chalamet

(Image credit: Warner Bros)

Denis Villeneuve's highly anticipated sci-fi epic Dune dominated the box office this year, with plenty of film fans flocking to watch the adaptation of Frank Hebert's much-loved book.

The film follows the Atreides family who has recently been invited to govern Arrakis, a dangerous planet that is rich in the “spice” known as melange, a coveted resource that can extend life and enhance consciousness. This family is made up of Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac), Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), and their son Paul (Timothée Chalamet).

Dune is a visually stunning film with an excellent soundtrack by the legendary Hans Zimmer, transporting viewers to a futuristic world and fully immersing them in this rich universe. It's a must-watch for anyone looking for an engaging, epic sci-fi film to dive into.

Better yet, it's been confirmed that Dune Part 2 will go ahead and fans will be able to catch the sequel in 2023. It's a long wait, but we're sure it'll be worth it! - Lucy Buglass

'The Mitchells vs. The Machines'

The Mitchells vs. The Machines

(Image credit: Netflix)

The Mitchells vs. The Machines is another beautifully-realized feature produced by Sony Pictures Animation (Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse).

This anarchic sci-fi comedy follows aspiring filmmaker Katie Mitchell (voiced by Abbi Jacobson) and her family as they head out on a cross-country road trip to save the family relationship after Katie falls out with her technophobic father Rick (Danny McBride) just before she heads off to college.

During the trip, the Mitchell family become unlikely heroes after an obsolete virtual assistant called PAL (voiced by Olivia Colman) goes rogue and orders her creator's new range of helper robots to capture every human on earth after he declares PAL is obsolete.

Using their unorthodox skills, the family evades capture and encounters all sorts of malevolent electronics on their journey; the fight inside a Colorado mall that includes in the arrival of a giant, godlike Furby is a baffling, must-see moment.

The Mitchells vs. The Machines is an energetic, feel-good family romp that uses stunning animation to bring a charming film to life vividly on any screen. Coupled with a genuinely hilarious script and excellent voice performances across the board, and a starring role for internet sensation Doug the Pug, it’s a truly winning formula - Martin Shore

'West Side Story'

West Side Story

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

I’m typically weary of movie remakes. A top tier director and cast taking on a lesser known movie or updating something for today can be interesting, but there are some movies that I feel should be off limits — in what world do we need a remake of The Godfather or Casablanca? West Side Story, the 1961 musical that won Best Picture and is one of the best movie musicals of all time, was certainly in the discussion as an untouchable movie, which was why I was nervous even with Steven Spielberg at the helm. However, my worries were quickly erased.

Spielberg’s West Side Story is masterful. The classic story and musical numbers are the same, but they are infused with a new energy and spectacle, particularly “America” and “Cool.” The movie also provides additional depth to the story's social commentary and characters, including a new character so they could include Rita Moreno (giving another fantastic performance). Spielberg reaffirms that he can do anything.

Would be remiss not to mention the cast, which in addition to Moreno saw outstanding performances from newcomer Rachel Zegler as Maria (sorry Natalie Wood, Zegler’s Maria is the best on-screen portrayal), Mike Faist as Riff, Ariana DeBose as Anita and Ansel Elgort as Tony. - Michael Balderston

'The Lost Daughter'

The Lost Daughter Olivia Colman as Leda

(Image credit: YANNIS DRAKOULIDIS/NETFLIX)

A fascinating beautifully shot but unsettling film from first-time director, Maggie Gyllenhaal. The Lost Daughter is the story of Leda (Olivia Colman), a middle-aged professor who goes on holiday only to become fixated by Nina (Dakota Johnson), a young mother and the wife of a small-time gangster. The obsession with Nina, her daughter, and her rowdy family triggers memories of a time when she was married with small children — feeling suffocated and limited by family life. 

It's a film that showcases the considerable acting talents of Olivia Colman who gets to play a resolutely unlikeable character, driven solely by her work and her passions, a mother who won't sacrifice her needs for her children (or anyone). The supporting cast, in Peter Sarsgaard (Leda's lover), Dakota Johnson, and the luminous Jessie Buckley (young Leda), is right up there with her though — matching performance for performance. 

Adapted from the novel by Elena Ferrante it's a tightly-woven story about mothers, daughters, and societal expectations and it packs a powerful punch. - Louise Okafor

'Minari'

Alan Kim, Noel Cho, Steven Yeun and Yeri Han in Minari

(Image credit: A24)

Dad, Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) moves his family out of the city and onto a farm in rural 1980s Arkansas with a plan to grow and sell Korean vegetables. It's an idea based more on faith than practicality —  just like the Field of Dreams "if you build it, they will come" philosophy. Jacob spends all the family's money (plus a loan) on setting up his business, his son David (the adorable Alan Kim) is sick and really should be close to a hospital, not in the middle of nowhere, he needs water for his vegetables (which the land doesn't have) and the family has to camp out in a cinder-block trailer while he hopes his dream comes to fruition. 

Minari is a warm, hopeful study of the immigrant experience — based on director Lee Isaac Chung's family experience — focused on themes of family, hard work and faith in the face of adversity. With its 1980s retro stylings and the rural countryside setting, it's particularly beautiful to look at and bursts of comedy break up the heavy-weight subject matter. Standouts are feisty, foul-mouthed grandma Soonja (Youn Yuh-jung), David (Alan Kim) and his dimples — the growing relationship between the pair is enchanting. - Louise Okafor

'A Quiet Place Part II'

Emily Blunt stars in 'A Quiet Place II'

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

After the highly successful first horror film, which got nominated for an Oscar for Best Achievement in Sound Editing (the silence has never been so deafening!), audiences couldn’t wait until A Quiet Place Part II would be released in cinemas and witness the Abbott family fight for survival in silence once again.

A Quiet Place Part II sees the Abbott family continue to survive in a post-apocalyptic world taken over by blind aliens who hunt by sound. The film also features a flashback sequence, revealing how the aliens came to Earth and started killing people. Now, over a year later, the creatures have slaughtered the majority of the Earth’s population.

Things are made particularly difficult for Lee Abbott (John Krasinski) and Evelyn Abbott’s (Emily Blunt) daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) who is deaf, and has had to navigate and cope with the dangerous world. But, this hasn’t stopped her sheer determination and strength in fighting to defeat the creatures. 

This film is an extreme edge-of-your-seat watch with some brutal and heart-breaking moments, but it has quickly become one of the most successful horror films of 2021.- Grace Morris

'The Suicide Squad'

The Suicide Squad

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The Suicide Squad was a big improvement from the previous film Suicide Squad and received rave reviews from watchers. It’s a rollercoaster ride full of chaos, absurdity and hilarious supervillains. From King Shark to a villain who uses polka-dots as weapons to kill people, the viewers adored how outrageous the film was.

There’s also an assortment of unlikely faces you would have never expected to appear in a film together, such as John Cena, Peter Capaldi, Pete Davidson and Sylvester Stallone, which makes it just that more entertaining. 

With a similar concept to the first film, the government sends out the most dangerous, wild, and certainly unique supervillains with various abilities to partake in a search-and-destroy mission. The convicts are taken to the enemy-ladened island of Corto Maltese and are tasked with destroying a secret experiment known as Project Starfish. 

It’s gorier than its predecessor, but there’s a good balance of comedic elements and explosive violence, making it one of the most legendary and memorable superhero films of 2021.- Grace Morris

'In The Heights'

TV tonight Anthony Ramos takes the lead role

(Image credit: Sky)

Based on Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s stage musical of the same name, In The Heights transports you to a world full of fun, great songs, and top-drawer performances.

Directed by John Chu (Crazy Rich Asians), In The Heights recounts several stories from the occupants of the predominantly Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City. The plot is set up as a story told to a group of kids by bodega owner, Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), and the movie follows Usnavi and several of his friends and relatives who live and work in the neighborhood. There, they all strive to achieve their ‘sueñitos’, or “little dreams”, experiencing everything from changes in the neighborhood, romance, heartbreak, a lottery win, and a blackout in the process.

From start to finish, it features a stellar ensemble cast, a score full of catchy songs that are infused with hip-hop, salsa, and soul, and musical numbers that are expertly staged, choreographed, and performed.

Simply put, In The Heights is a bold, feel-good movie musical, and was easily one of the most fun viewing experiences I had in 2021. In a year where we were also treated to (the equally brilliant) Tick, Tick… Boom! and West Side Story remake, I feel In The Heights still deserves plenty of recognition. - Martin Shore 

'Paw Patrol: The Movie'

Paw Patrol: The Movie pups

(Image credit: 2021 Paramount Pictures)

For anyone looking for a film to keep their young kids entertained for an hour and a half, then the movie offering from the much-loved Nickelodeon cartoon, Paw Patrol, is definitely a safe bet. Packed with famous voices (including everyone from Kim Kardashian and Jimmy Kimmel to Ronan Keating and Strictly Come Dancing 2021 star Tom Fletcher), the movie sees Marshall, Rubble, Skye, Zuma, Rocky, and Chase back with their owner, Ryder, in a shinier, much slicker version of the TV cartoon. 

Expect fun and laughs, as well as drama and, of course, trouble as the Paw Patrol pups leave Adventure Bay and head to neighboring town Adventure City, where Mayor Humdinger is causing chaos with his dastardly plans. Armed with shiny new gadgets and a new dachshund friend, it is a race against time for everyone's favorite heroic pups to save the day. 

The movie definitely has slightly more peril than the TV version, (think humans and pets stuck in vehicles or buildings that are about to collapse or crash) — but of course, there is always a happy ending and the movie also promotes a positive message about teamwork, courage, and problem-solving. - Claire Crick

'The Harder They Fall'

The Harder They Fall

(Image credit: Netflix)

One of the first U.S. movies that had an actual story to it, 1903's The Great Train Robbery, was a western. The genre has been so prevalent throughout the history of Hollywood that it can feel kind of tired, but every so often a new movie comes around and revitalizes the western. We had that this year with The Harder They Fall.

Telling the story of two rival gangs of outlaws on a revenge-fueled collision course for a last-man-standing shootout in a quiet town, The Harder They Fall hits just about every beat you would want of a great western — a hero who bends the law but adheres to his own moral code, a villain who makes wearing the black hat look so cool and the climactic, epic shootout. However, what makes this movie stand out is that in a genre that has long been defined by John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, this western is made up of an almost entirely Black cast. The film makes a point at the beginning to acknowledge that while the story is fictional, Black cowboys like these characters were a part of the real history of the west.

Jonathan Majors, Zazie Beetz, RJ Cyler, Edi Gathegi, Danielle Deadwyler, and Delroy Lindo make up one of two main group of outlaws, while Idris Elba, Regina King and Lakeith Stanfield head up the other. The whole cast is fantastic, but praise also must be given to Jeymes Samuel, previously known as British musician The Bullitts, who made his feature directing debut with The Harder They Fall. The movie signals the emergence of a potential major talent. 

In addition to all of that, The Harder They Fall is just a lot of fun. - Michael Balderston

'CODA'

Emilia Jones plays Ruby, the sole hearing member of a deaf family in “CODA.”

(Image credit: Vendome Pictures)

I was lucky enough to see CODA where it premiered as part of the (virtual) 2021 Sundance Film Festival last January, where it won both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize. Since then I had told just about everyone I could that they needed to keep an eye out for this absolute charmer, so one more time won't hurt.

"CODA" stands for "Child of Deaf Adults," and the film follows a Massachusetts family  where 18-year-old Ruby (Emilia Jones) is the only one who can hear. When her family's fishing business is threatened, Ruby is torn between pursuing her dreams of going to art school to become a singer and staying home to continue to help her family.

If you want a perfect example of a crowd-pleaser, look no further than CODA. Funny and incredibly touching, CODA raises the bar thanks to its depiction of this unique family and the performances from deaf actors Marlee Matline, Troy Kotsur and Daniel Durant as well as Jones. - Michael Balderston 

'Ron's Gone Wrong'

Ron, in a woolly hat, sits with Barney in a field of tall grass

(Image credit: © 2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.)

If you loved E.T., then this charming, funny, poignant and thoroughly entertaining movie is for you. Poor Barney is an awkward kid who is the only one in his class who doesn’t have the latest must-have piece of tech — you’re own social media robot! Desperate to cheer up his son, his dad finally gets his hands on the ultimate toy, but this one is seriously malfunctioning! 

Cue plenty of laughs and tears as Barney and Ron the robot go off on an adventure. It makes many knowing comments about our social media obsessions, but this is ultimately the story of kids learning what’s really important in life. Ron's Gone Wrong is great fun. - David Hollingsworth