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End of Year Review 2021 : Sarah

Last year while writing my review for the abysmal year we had all round for 2020, I had high hopes that 2021 could only get better. On writing this recap in December 2021, with the Omicron variant of coronavirus gaining steam, I can at least say (for now) that 2021 did get much better as far as the film industry is concerned… eventually.

Having closed again due to the pandemic in October 2020, cinemas in the UK didn’t reopen until May 2021, leaving the first 5 months of the year to catch up on the latest TV and streaming releases. It got off to a great start with the release of Russell T Davies’ It’s a Sin, a Channel 4 series concentrating on the impact of the HIV and AIDs crisis on a group of gay men and their friends in the 80s and 90s. Here Davies has managed to seamlessly blend humour with a heart-warming and sobering drama that is incredibly engaging, leaving not a dry eye in the house.

Notable film releases were lacking in the early months of the year until Amazon brought us the Oscar-nominated Sound of Metal in April. A film entirely deserving of all of the accolades thrown at it, it is a detailed, realistic and immersive experience that makes the audience feel like we’re experiencing the same hearing loss as main character Ruben. Riz Ahmed as Ruben conveys such emotion in his face and the sign language he uses, it was such a shame that he didn’t win the Oscar.

2021 has been a great year for TV, and a good thing too thanks to the lack of big-screen releases for at least half of the year. From HBO and Sky Atlantic’s Mare of Easttown, the excellent Kate Winslet led crime drama, to the release of season 6 of BBC’s Line of Duty, where we finally found out who the elusive ‘H’ is, TV has been pretty good to us this year. We’ve seen some smash hit, dystopian foreign shows, such as the Japanese Alice in Borderland and the South Korean Squid Game, both featuring rather sadistic yet entertaining and captivating storylines.

And then there’s Marvel. January saw the start of Phase 4 and the release of the first TV series set within the MCU, WandaVision, followed later in the year by The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, What If…? and the most recent Hawkeye. All screened on Disney+, WandaVision especially heralded a welcome return to the MCU after an extended break due to the pandemic. We hadn’t seen a new Marvel release since Spider-Man: Far From Home in July 2019, so WandaVision helped fill a huge MCU shaped gap that I hadn’t known was missing! These shows are everything you’d expect from Marvel, and while they aren’t perfect, with some being betters than others, they are all welcome additions to the MCU and have made this year’s home viewing much more palatable.

July saw the release of the first MCU film of 2021 and indeed the first major release since the reopening of the cinemas; Black Widow. As a prequel set after the events of Captain America: Civil War, I had low expectations for a film where the fate of the main character is predefined, however, I had to eat my words. This is by far the best standalone Marvel film that has been released to date, with a humorous yet heart-warming dysfunctional family dynamic set in a tense action thriller. While some of the other MCU films released in 2021 don’t quite live up to the standards set by Black Widow, ranging from pretty good (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) to not so good (Eternals), the same can’t be said for the recently released and utterly brilliant Spider-Man: No Way Home (more about that one later).

July also saw the return of another set of superpowered individuals, the shady, villainous Task Force X also known as The Suicide Squad. A part sequel, part reboot of the not very well received Suicide Squad of 2016, James Gunn worked his magic with a hilarious, crazy story and a script full of quips and one-liners. It’s demented, ridiculously absurd and possibly the most raucously entertaining film I saw all year.

October saw the release of two much-anticipated films that like many others, had been delayed due to the pandemic. No Time to Die was finally released 18 months later than originally scheduled, and as the final Bond film to star Daniel Craig, expectations were high. As a swan song for Craig, this film has everything you’d want from a modern-day Bond – gadgets, camp humour and cheesy one-liners – along with more heart and emotion than we’ve ever seen before from the suave spy. Even an incredibly inflated run time couldn’t ruin that surprise ending either.

Also released was Dune (Part One), Denis Villeneuve’s long-awaited adaptation of the Frank Herbert novel. Having read the book for the first time over lockdown, I was incredibly excited to see this and rejoiced that this lived up to Herbert’s epic novel. For anyone who hasn’t read the book, the film could be a little slow-paced and overwhelming, but for fans of the novel Villeneuve has created a cohesive and immersive introduction to the story, with absolutely stunning design and cinematography and a cast that fit their roles perfectly. The biggest travesty with this film would be if we never get to see a Part Two.

December sees three major releases: Spider-Man: No Way Home, The Matrix Resurrections and The King’s Man. My verdict on the latter two will have to wait until the new year as instead, I’ve ended 2021 on an incredible high with Spider-Man: No Way Home. Hands down my top film of 2021, it pulls off a daring plot that shouldn’t work but really does – to bring back so many characters from other Spider-Man film series not in the MCU is an amazing feat. It’s a fantastic mix of humour, heart-warming nostalgia and non-stop action, and I still get a warm fuzzy feeling thinking about how great this film was even a week later.

If 2021 has shown me anything, it’s how much I missed the cinema and seeing the latest releases on the big screen over the covid lockdowns. It’s been fantastic to get back to the cinema and even better to see some of the great films that have been released this year. With some of the big films due out next year, 2022 is looking promising too.

Sarah Clapperton
A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I'm not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills - Bake Off here I come!
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