The 10 best film scenes of 2021
Are we back to normal? Not yet, and maybe never. But movies were still strong enough this year that our regular top 10 couldn't cover all the moments that thrilled us — an overflow that seems worth marking with... more lists! (Because aren't they the real reason for the season?)
Though these additional 10 might have fallen short of our main picks, we'd be remiss not to celebrate the pool parties, pain boxes, and seagull serenades that made for some of our favorite film scenes of the year.
Bus Fight Club, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
There's a Cat in the Hat sameness to most superhero brawls — they will punch you in the face! They will laser you in space! — that Shang-Chi cuts right through with one early kinetic showdown. As best friends Shaun (Simu Liu) and Katy (Awkwafina) head to their valet day jobs at a San Francisco hotel, an altercation with a crew of burly bionic henchmen on a city bus becomes a battle royale so balletic and clever, sparks (and brake pads, and a few dozen extras) literally fly.
House of Pain, Dune
The phrase "What's in the box?" hasn't hung this heavy since Brad Pitt got gifted Gwyneth's head in Seven. To test the chosen-one bona fides of Arrakis' princeling-savior Paul (Timothée Chalamet), Charlotte Rampling's Reverend Mother, regal and ruthless in her veiled galactic vestments, sends him to the limits of physical distress, while his anxious mother (Rebecca Ferguson) waits outside the door — and we wait to see whether Chalamet will have to transplant his own Scissorhand.
Too Pool for School, In the Heights
After more than a year of indoor-cat ennui, was there anything sweeter than witnessing the explosion of pure summertime joy and buoyant poolside choreo that anchors Jon M. Chu's screen adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda's celebrated musical? Esther Williams could tell you that musical water-work is nothing new, but that's still somehow how Chu made it feel — not least for setting his pivotal moment at an actual Washington Heights public pool, with a sea of multicultural faces popping off to the show's sunny hip-hop-inflected centerpiece "96,000."
Double Feature, Last Night in Soho
Edgar Wright's stylish thriller falls off in the back half, but his dazzling setup — in which Thomasin McKenzie's modern-day London fashion student tumbles into the nocturnal nightclub wonderland of a mod-'60s mystery blonde played by Anya Taylor-Joy — is a mirror-image marvel. Are they connected psychically, spiritually, physically? Though Wright explains it all eventually, the fun at first is in not knowing, and just watching what he can he do with a few ingenious camera tricks and two gorgeous, haunted ingenues.
Cuba Libre, No Time to Die
There's no shortage of elaborate set pieces in Cary Joji Fukunaga's nearly-three-hour Bond blowout, but few are as much fun as the segment when Daniel Craig's 007 goes to Havana to track down a kidnapped scientist and finds a hunting partner in Paloma (Knives Out star Ana de Armas), a fellow agent with a fantastic dimples and a jumpy trigger finger. The whole thing feels almost like its own standalone mini-movie, but if they don't make a Paloma spin-off out of this, they're crazy.
Simone Says, Summer of Soul
There's truly no wrong way to go in Soul, Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson's documentary celebration of the 1969 Harlem Culture Festival, rescued from the dustbin of history and finally placed center-stage in all its vibrant Technicolor glory. But if the Sophie's choice is between Stevie Wonder's ecstatic drum solo, a water-tight Sly and the Family Stone set, the great Gladys Knight, and Nina Simone, it has to be Nina's "Are You Ready Black People" call-and-response, a performance so calm and powerful and casually regal you wish you could stop time just to step back inside that moment.
Jesus Take the Wheel, Titane
If you heard one thing about the winner of this year's vaunted Palme d'Or at Cannes, it was that yes, this is The One Where The Lady Has Sex With a Car — not in it or on it, but with it. The moment is not, technically speaking, all that explicit: Agathe Roussel's nihilistic model prefers to practice auto-erotica her way, and her communion with a Cadillac is both unsettling and weirdly beautiful.
The Luckiest Seagull, Barb & Star Go to Vista del Mar
The awards buzz for Jamie Dornan may be centered on his turn as an idealized Troubles-era dad in Belfast, but let the Academy reconsider: "Edgar's Prayer," his impassioned, nearly on-key plea to a flock of profoundly indifferent seabirds is a triumph of unhinged Eurovision balladry — the kind that gets nice Midwestern ladies like Barb and Star (Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig) to slide right out of their Hanes Her Way panties and into his hotel suite.
The Calm Before the Storm, A Quiet Place Part II
It opens on a scene so all-American they should have been pumping apple-pie scent straight into the theater: A sunny day, a small town, a Little League game. Lee and Evelyn Abbot (John Krasinski and Emily Blunt) and their daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) are in the bleachers cheering for Marcus (Noah Jupe) when something tears across the sky; the homicidal spider-crabs from space are coming, and life will never be the same.
If you haven't seen James Wan's truly bananas horror hit, stop reading. If you have, oh my God: Most of the plot is supremely silly jump-scare stuff, but the big reveal that the scalp tingle a Seattle nurse (Annabelle Wallis) can't shake was not an itch but a murderous parasitic twin truly gave new meaning to the phrase wigging out.
A version of this story appears in Entertainment Weekly's January issue, on newsstands Friday and available to order here. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.
Check out more from EW's The Awardist, featuring Oscars analysis, exclusive interviews, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's movies and performances.
Comments have been disabled on this post