The host of Movies and Musicals on RTÉ lyric fm picks her movies to remember from 2021...

10. Arracht

Like many Irish films that were screened during festivals, Arracht had to wait a long time to get a general cinema release due to Covid restrictions. I was delighted it made it through and won many awards. Tom Sullivan’s impressive Irish-language famine drama starring Dónall Ó Héalaí set in Ireland in 1845, tells the tale of a fisherman unable to protect his family. He is subsumed by darkness until a helpless little girl saves him from despair. With great work from cinematographer Kate McCullough and music by Kíla, we get a poignant, powerful film about this dark period of our history.

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9. The Father

This year’s Oscars, you may recall, closed on a rather awkward note when the award for Best Actor, which had been moved to the very end of the ceremony, went not to Chadwick Boseman, (who was the favourite), but to Anthony Hopkins who was absent. When I finally got to see Hopkins, I thought he gave a beautifully judged performance, playing an aging man who must deal with his progressing dementia. An impressive directorial debut from Florrian Zeller, who co-wrote the Oscar award-winning screenplay with fellow playwright Christopher Hampton based on Zeller's 2012 play Le Père. Anthony Hopkins was in good company with Olivia Colman, Mark Gatiss, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell, and Olivia Williams. A devastating portrayal of dementia, that conveys compassion, both for the titular character and for his daughter.

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8. No Time to Die

Oh come on! How much fun was this?! The Bond producers were determined to time this release to both get viewers excited to be back in the cinema for a Bond flick and to give Daniel Craig the finale he deserved as 007. After months of delays, the pressure was on, this would want to be worth the wait lads. Well, it was. Yes, a little long, and not the greatest baddies, but I settled into the IMAX cinema, (a first visit there in a very long time), sat back and was utterly entertained. The car chases, the action sequences, the wonderful locations and the romance. The brilliant casting of Ana de Armas for a welcome new energy with a little comedy on the side. Daniel gave it his all, and the brave, emotional ending worked so well. I wish the producers well with the casting of the next Bond, Daniel Craig is a hard act to follow.

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7. A Quiet Place, Part II

They were holding out for a cinema release which was the right thing to do, this had to be seen in a cinema and with silence required, your popcorn, was, no doubt, left untouched. I really liked the original film and I thought that this was a very impressive sequel. John Krasinski has proved himself to be a talented director and he gathered a very impressive cast with the return of Emily Blunt, the introduction of Cillian Murphy and great performances by Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe as the kids. This is a brilliantly paced thriller with once again impeccable use of sound and editing. It’s a tight 96 minutes and never flags. At one point we have three separate stories of survival going on, edge of your seat stuff! This is a horror film, with a strong thriller element but with a deep emotional core that sets it apart from the rest.

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6. Promising Young Woman

The trailer for this release had me intrigued, both in terms of the themes explored and I remember being struck straight away by an arrangement for string quartet of the Britney Spears hit, Toxic. Composer Anthony Willis followed director Emerald Fennell’s vision and developed a slow, creepy, and incredibly warped version of the song to accompany not only the trailer, but a key moment toward the end of the film. Brilliantly written and directed by Emerald Fennell with a superb performance from Carey Mulligan playing a young woman, traumatized by a tragic event in her past who seeks out vengeance against those who crossed her path. It is best described as a dark comedy thriller, A boldly provocative, timely releases and a career highlight for Carey Mulligan.

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5. Supernova

You had me at Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci. We are back with the theme of dementia, but a totally different film to The Father. Supernova, written and directed by Harry Macqueen, tells a heartbreaking love story between Sam and Tusker, partners for 20 years who travel across England to the Lake District, reuniting with friends and family. As Tusker (Tucci) is diagnosed with early onset dementia, the pair spend as much time together as they can. Firth and Tucci, who are great pals in real life, give heartfelt performances in this magnificent, touching, emotional drama about love and mortality. With such dark subject matter, this film still manages to have charm and humour, all down to the tender performances from Firth and Tucci who exude charisma and have wonderful on-screen chemistry.

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4 King Richard

Well, what an intriguing story, this was a movie waiting to be made. Will Smith, (who can be hit or miss for me) gives this performance his all, playing Richard Williams, father of tennis champions Serena and Venus Williams. I went in knowing a little about this story, but the film reveals so much more as we learn about the early years, when he put together a plan, carefully researched and thought out, to provide opportunities for his daughters beyond what was available in the small town of Compton. Venus and Serena have producing credits on this film and it doesn’t shy away from the tricky, stubborn character their father was when they were growing up. His chequered past with other women is revealed in an argument he has with the exasperated mother of his five daughters. What we get is as inspiring story about two hard working parents relentless in their search for ways to secure a solid future for their children. It struck a great balance between the excitement of the story unfolding and the emotional aspect. It thankfully didn’t become overly sentimental. Some recent releases have been overlong, but I was gripped by this one from beginning to end. In fact, I didn’t want it to end.

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3 The Power of the Dog

Written and directed by Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog reminds us of what a brilliant director she is and why it is no surprise that when the film had its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival, Campion won the Silver Lion for Best Direction. Based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Savage, it features a powerhouse performance from Benedict Cumberbatch alongside an excellent Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee. There is huge tension anytime Cumberbatch is on screen as rancher Phil Burbank, a man who rarely washes and who inspires fear and awe in those around him. It's hard to believe that it’s been 28 years since the release of Jane Campion's The Piano, which I watched again last week. With The Power of the Dog, again, Campion has made an atmospheric period drama shot in the wilds of New Zealand. It is perhaps a darker, stranger affair, but a film that works as a western and a psychological study of toxic masculinity.

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2. Another Round

Looking at my top three films, they certainly feature brilliant directors. The excellent Danish film, Another Round is a dark comedy-drama directed by Thomas Vinterberg which was very well received and rightly so. At the Academy Awards, the film won Best International Feature Film and was also nominated for Best Director. It also won BAFTA Award for Best Film Not in the English Language and European Film Award for Best Film. Mads Mikkelsen in top form, leads a brilliant cast as we are given an intoxicating look at midlife crises. It creates a wonderfully balanced mix of madness, tenderness, melancholy, sadness and humour. It leaves us with a final shot with perhaps the most joyous and entertaining final moments of any film this year.

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1. West Side Story

Well, the previous films scored very well for me, but it took Spielberg’s screen version of West Side Story for my 5 stars to come out. Could Spielberg direct a musical? Yes, he could, and so well. It is clear that he loves West Side Story and made this film with so much love and care and respect. He delivers a smart update. Each shot is so well thought out and the musical numbers are brilliantly recreated. He, of course righted some wrongs from the original 1961 version. Here, you see 20 cast members who are either Puerto Rican or of Puerto Rican descent. The standouts for me, Ariana DeBose as Anita and Rachel Zeglar as Maria, who in this version speaks freely in both Spanish and English. Unlike the 1961 movie, where the lead singing voices were dubbed, all of Spielberg’s cast members can sing, dance and act, often referred to as ‘the triple threat’ required to be cast in a big musical. I love the inclusion of Rita Morena and not just in a tokenistic way, a proper role, she brings a lovely nostalgic feel to it and a lot of heart in addition to her turn as executive producer. Spielberg has directed with a loving nod to the original but with a wonderful freshness and a magnificent cast. The music, the choreography, the production design, all top notch. I always shed a tear at the end, but an extra one this time when the closing credits roll and up comes... Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

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Aedín Gormley is the host of Movies and Musicals, RTÉ lyric fm, Saturdays from 1 pm - listen back here.