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The best films of 2021 Richard Roeper Must Watch

No. 1 for the year is ‘Belfast,’ Kenneth Branagh’s black-and-white love letter to his childhood in the Northern Ireland of the late 1960s.

We like to kick off our annual “Best Movies of the Year” piece with a tip of the cap to some excellent films that fell just short of making the cut, and this time around that list includes:

“Candyman,” “Encanto,” “King Richard,” “The Last Duel,” “Last Night in Soho,” “The Lost Daughter,” “Mass,” “Nightmare Alley,” “The Power of the Dog” and “The Tragedy of Macbeth.”

That would make for a stellar Top 10 list — but difficult choices have to be made, and when the final credits rolled on the 2021 movie year, the following films are the ones that resonated most with me.

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A Quiet Place, Part II

Rather than go the streaming route in 2020, writer/director John Krasinski waited a year and then gave us a theatrical release last May — and what a great decision that was, as this nearly perfect sequel should be seen in a theater, where the use of sound can be fully appreciated. (And yes, sound is a MAJOR player in the “Quiet Place” movies.) Kicking off with a prologue that served as prequel, “A Quiet Place II” expanded the post-apocalyptic universe in ingenious ways, with Emily Blunt delivering passionate work as a mother who will go to extraordinary lengths to protect her children. This is one of the best sequels in any genre in the last 10 years.

The Harder They Fall

Director/co-writer/producer Jeymes Samuel is squarely in the Sergio Leone-meets-Quentin Tarantino zone in this violent, bloody, funny, exhilarating and beautifully acted Black Western. “The Harder They Fall” is brimming with characters such as Rufus Buck and Cherokee Bill who were real-life 19th century Black figures — but the story is 100% fictional, with Jonathan Majors heading an outstanding cast as one Nat Love, a classic anti-hero out to avenge the murder of his parents. This is one rip-roaring adventure, and I haven’t invoked the term “rip-roaring” in a long time, so you know I mean it.

In the Heights

Director John M. Chu (“Crazy Rich Asians”) teams with Lin-Manuel Miranda (I believe he had something to do with “Hamilton”) in this vibrant, wide open, beautifully filmed adaptation of the Tony Award-winning musical. Set in the multicultural neighborhood of Washington Heights in upper Manhattan, “In the Heights” is a generational tale about family, heritage and, of course, love. Anthony Ramos as the bodega owner Usnavi and Melissa Barrera as Vanessa, who yearns to break into the fashion industry, are the most engaging romantic couple in a 2021 musical this side of … well, another movie appearing on this list.

Old Henry

Who doesn’t love a little Tim Blake Nelson? From “Minority Report” to “Syriana” to “The Grey Zone” to “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” and we could list 25 more credits, Nelson has been one of the most reliable character actors of his generation — and he gets arguably the role of his career as the lead in “Old Henry,” writer/director Potsy Ponciroli’s bleak and brutal early 20th Western, with Nelson as the title character, an Oklahoma Territory farmer who finds himself in the crosshairs of a ruthless posse. Featuring the best plot twist of any movie this year.

‘Those Who Wish Me Dead’

Actor-turned-filmmaker Taylor Sheridan is an American treasure as the writer and/or director of brilliant films such as “Sicario,” “Hell or High Water” and “Wind River,” the TV series “Yellowstone,” “1883” and “Mayor of Kingstown” — and the outlandish and wildly entertaining neo-Western “Those Who Wish Me Dead,” and yes, it might be a stretch to buy into Angelina Jolie as a smokejumper haunted by a tragedy, but Jolie pours herself into the role and is particularly effective in the scenes where she has to protect a 12-year-old (Finn Little) who is the target of a father-and-son assassin duo. (Told you it was outlandish.)

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