Well, 2021 wasn’t the improvement we all deserved after a dire 2020. Perhaps that was just wishful thinking. I sincerely hope that you and your family are safe and well, as we prepare to enter year three of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There’s no single emotion to describe everything going on. Perhaps our top 20 films of the year reflect a blurred image of what we’ve collectively been through: sadness, saudade, and the sometimes sublime.

Over the coming days, we’ll be announcing our top 10 films, day by day, with essays from our writers vouching for each film’s excellence. As per usual, we begin the countdown with our rundown of our 20 to 11 positioned films below.

Thank you all for your support for yet another year. May 2022 be a great year for us all.

—David Brake, Founder/Editor of One Room with a View.

N.B. As our site is UK-based, we work off the selection of films released in cinemas and on VOD in the UK in 2021.

20 After Love

This expertly keyed debut humanely depicts raw grief and builds near unbearable tension as the freshly widowed Mary crosses lines that can’t be uncrossed to re-examine the husband she thought she knew. Joanna Scanlan’s wide-ranging performance anchors the film; this is intimate human drama where the scale is small but the emotions are huge and heavy. Scanlan and costar Nathalie Richard craft simmering undercurrents of meaning in every scene, creating killer suspense from chemistry alone.

The stakes of the interpersonal drama are writ large in its striking use of the coastal setting. An imposing maritime soundscape of foghorns, seabirds, and crumbling cliffs brings home the narrative’s layers of betrayal and deceit.

—Rachel Brook

19 Undine

The present, past, and mythological collide in Christian Petzold’s reimagining of a water nymph in modern Berlin. The city’s porous boundaries and stories built one on another are an ever-present backdrop as Undine and Christoph (a radiant Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski) explore their flesh-and-blood connection. Their aching chemistry carries the film as it moves into more magical territory; when fate inevitably changes the course of their relationship and calls the aquatic visitor home, Undine proves a transcendent reflection on transitory connections and ripples of heartbreak. Equally importantly, Big Gunther is an unsung animal hero of 2021 cinema.

—Carmen Paddock

18 No Time To Die

Does the world need James Bond anymore? A question that director Cary Fukunaga asks, and answers, in the triumphant No Time to Die. Daniel Craig’s uneven run came to a satisfying end thanks to the star and director’s sincere, lean, introspective take on 007.

Unafraid of making bold and heavy storytelling choices, the exploration of who and what James Bond is – both in the film’s plot, and with an eye on wider popular culture – makes No Time to Die a feast to savour, repeatedly. Is Daniel Craig the best Bond? He’s made an undeniably strong case.

—David Brake

17 Ninjababy

In Ninjababy, the story of a cartoonist who discovers that she is six months pregnant, comedy and drama are colourfully threaded together. Yngvild Sve Flikke chases moments of stark realisation and cold dread with the sticky sweetness of two friends joking over glasses of juice. Feelings wash over each other, melding into a carefully observed, hand-drawn collage.

Ninjababy is a sharp as it is sincere, intimately understanding the terror and excitement that animate one’s early 20s: everything feels possible until, suddenly, nothing is. All this culminates in an emotionally cacophonous final gaze, a moment that feels pointed and open, packed with meaning and absent of any grand point.

—Anna McKibbin

16 The French Dispatch

Wes Anderson simultaneously expands his unique aesthetic to envelope the entire fictional French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé and focuses it more precisely than ever, telling three complex short stories with unparalleled economy.

It’s truly obscene how much he packs into a mere 30-odd minutes per story, hiding emotions in the silences between shots.

Anderson provokes perhaps the most profound and melancholic performances of his career, including highlights from Benicio Del Toro and Jeffrey Wright, while continuing to experiment visually. It may seem a footnote compared to his greatest hits, but The French Dispatch is a masterpiece on finding joy in the mundane.

—Tom Bond

15. Shiva Baby

Emma Seligman’s feature-length debut is the year’s best comedy and its best horror. Danielle arrives at a shiva where her overbearing parents, ex-girlfriend, and sugar daddy are always within eyeshot and earshot, which, along with Seligman’s stellar screenplay and a terrifying score by Ariel Marx, makes Uncut Gems feel like ASMR.

Rachel Sennott and Molly Gordon stand out as former partners, with no other onscreen relationship this year so acutely portraying two characters who’ve clearly known and still care deeply for each other so well.

Danielle’s anxiety about her future and the pressures she feels from everyone around her make Shiva Baby 2021’s most relatable nightmare.

—Scott Wilson

14. Dune

Joining rarefied company as a 21st-century blockbuster with a genuine soul, Dune took the already superb Denis Villeneuve to new heights, building a magnificent world out of Frank Herbert’s legendary novel. An all-star cast inhabits the year’s best-designed sets and costumes, backed by stunning cinematography and the best Hans Zimmer score in years. It’s the kind of film that defines ‘Epic’, with the kind of awe-inspiring scale and sweep last seen in Lord of the Rings. That it got made in the first place seems like a miracle; the fact it’s getting a sequel even more so. Bring on Part Two.

—Jack Blackwell

13 Drive My Car

Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car is an adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s short story of the same name. A poetic slow-burner, Drive My Car is a ballad of trauma, tragedy, and moving on. Theatre actor Yūsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and his screenwriter wife Oto (Reika Kirishima) weave stories together when at their most intimate – then, unexpectedly, everything changes. Later, chauffered in his car by the enigmatic and quiet Misaki (Tōko Miura), Yūsuke finally manages to share secrets of loss and trauma. This is a subtle epic, and easily one of the year’s finest films.

—Nick Davie

12 Annette

Complete acquiescence is required to experience Leos Carax’s cinematic trust exercise Annette to the full extent of its brilliant madness. In this opera written by legendary pop duo Sparks, a high-profile celebrity couple falls in and out of love under the unforgiving eyes of the public, their relationship resulting in one good thing only: a little baby, named Annette.

Alas, Annette is not a baby, after all. Instead, the girl is a wooden puppet with the voice of an angel. As bonkers as it sounds, the premise is at times the least bonkers in the bonkersness of Carax’s lavish endeavour, the result a deliciously indulgent marvel that is destined to the shelves of all-time greatness.

—Rafa Sales Ross

11 Minari

Named after a delicate, resilient water plant, Minari represents the precarious emotional storm that so many immigrants weather to put down roots. Minute details, like the joy of genuine chilli powder to the broader strokes of the family dynamic, all hit close to home. Steven Yeun’s daydreaming optimism and Han Ye-ri’s fearful hesitancy encompass the strength needed to move your family somewhere isolated and unknown. The allure of nature is captured in the glorious greenery of Arkansas, the child’s-eye-view of Alan Kim, and in Emile Mosseri’s breathtaking score. Every element of Lee Isaac Chung’s soulful film, like its patriarch, throws its whole heart into this American dream.

—Fatima Sheriff

So, to recap, here’s our Top 20 to 11…

#20 – After Love
#19 – Undine
#18 – No Time To Die
#17 – Ninjababy
#16 – The French Dispatch
#15 – Shiva Baby
#14 – Dune
#13 – Drive My Car
#12 – Annette
#11 – Minari

Stay tuned for the remainder of 2021 as we count down our Top 10 films of 2021!