Best of 2021: Writing, Directing & Acting

While the pandemic and day-and-day streaming has thrown the theatrical experience in disarray, there were no shortage of illuminating and stunning motion pictures in 2021. The team at Silver Linings Reviews are here to separate the wheat from the chaff and share our favorite elements from films released in 2021.

While we tried to watch as many films as possible (over 200 2021 releases), this list is obviously not exhaustive and is subjective to our own tastes. Be sure to share with us your favorite films of 2021 by using the hashtag #SilverLinings and following us on Twitter!

Best Adapted Screenplay

It’s immensely challenging to adapt any pre-existing story for the silver screen, let alone a 14th century romance written in Middle English. Somehow though, David Lowery was able to update the tale of Sir Gawain & the Green Knight just enough so that it’s more approachable to contemporary audiences, while still maintain the core themes and epic nature of the original work. In fact, the thought-provoking altered ending of The Green Knight might even surpass the quintessential chivalric romance, which is possibly the highest praise we can give Lowery.

  1. David Lowery (The Green Knight)
  2. Guillermo Del Toro & Kim Morgan (Nightmare Alley)
  3. Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog)
  4. Matt Damon, Ben Affleck & Nicole Holofcener (The Last Duel)
  5. Lana Wachowski, David Mitchell & Aleksandar Hemon (The Matrix Resurrections)
  6. Honorable Mentions: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (Drive My Car), Tony Kushner (West Side Story), Erica Schmidt (Cyrano), Rebecca Hall (Passing), Ramin Bahrani (The White Tiger)

Best Original Screenplay

Biopics are a dime a dozen in Hollywood, but Steven Knight’s confined approach to understanding Princess Diana’s state of being (Spencer takes place over three days during the Christmas holiday) is revelatory. Knight’s script is often abstract and relishes in a plethora of motifs, from the concept of time to pheasants.

  1. Steven Knight (Spencer)
  2. Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (Wheel of Fortune & Fantasy)
  3. Jim Cummings & PJ McCabe (The Beta Test)
  4. Edson Oda (Nine Days)
  5. Emma Seligman (Shiva Baby)
  6. Honorable Mentions: Nikole Beckwith (Together Together), Dennis Kelly (Together), Lauren Hadaway (The Novice), Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig (Barb & Star Go To Vista Del Mar), Ben Sharrock (Limbo)

Best Lead Actor

Winston Duke delivers one of the finest performances of the decade as reclusive interviewer, Will. Duke internalizes the pain of his character, allowing the audience to connect with Will on an intimate level. When he does explode though, Duke’s tears up the screen with a fiery hurt and fury that leaves you in awe.

  1. Winston Duke (Nine Days)
  2. Justin Chon (Blue Bayou)
  3. Jim Cummings (The Beta Test)
  4. Matt Damon (Stillwater)
  5. Bradley Cooper (Nightmare Alley)
  6. Honorable Mentions: Andrew Garfield (Mainstream), Dan Stevens (I’m Your Man), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog), Adam Driver (Annette), Dev Patel (The Green Knight)

Best Lead Actress

Kristen Stewart manages the impeccable feat of acting closely enough to the real princess while using the more fantastical elements of the film to add her own dramatic flair to the character. It’s clear that Stewart pulls from her experience as an overwhelmed teen idol from the Twilight series to achieve Lady Di’s level of exasperation. Despite a no holds barred frustration that emanates throughout, Stewart’s performance is still nuanced and certainly one of the most intriguing acting displays of the year.

  1. Kristen Stewart (Spencer)
  2. Isabelle Fuhrman (The Novice)
  3. Jasna Duricic (Quo vadis, Aida?)
  4. Alicia Vikander (Blue Bayou)
  5. Rachel Sennott (Shiva Baby)
  6. Honorable Mentions: Kristen Wiig (Barb & Star Go To Vista Del Mal), Islam Mubarak (You Will Die At Twenty), Jodie Comer (The Last Duel), Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye), Rebecca Hall (The Night House)

Best Supporting Actor

The entire cast of The Power of The Dog gives their all to their performances, but Kodi Smit-McPhee particularly stands out as Rose’s adopted son, Peter. Smit-McPhee delivers a quiet brooding performance that often puts Benedict Cumberbatch’s showy theatrics to shame. There’s a particular barn scene in the third act that had shades of Paul Dano and Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood, which is the last time we’ve witnessed such a young actor hold his own against a Hollywood powerhouse.

  1. Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Power of the Dog)
  2. Ben Affleck (The Last Duel)
  3. Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah)
  4. Jeffrey Wright (The French Dispatch)
  5. Sean Harris (Spencer)
  6. Honorable Mentions: Woody Norman (C’mon C’mon), Alex Wolff (Pig), David Stratharin (Nightmare Alley), Vikash Bhai (Limbo), Mike Faist (West Side Story)

Best Supporting Actress

There is an otherworldly presence to Ruth Negga’s performance in Passing. Negga is poised and elegant, yet behind every smile lies a secret that compels the viewer to continue watching. It’s the kind of mystical and mysterious performance that is typically only found in classical Hollywood films.

  1. Ruth Negga (Passing)
  2. Kathryn Hunter (The Tragedy of Macbeth)
  3. Arianna Ortiz (Nine Days)
  4. Alicia Vikander (The Green Knight)
  5. Ariana DeBose (West Side Story)
  6. Honorable Mentions: Cate Blanchett (Nightmare Alley), Rita Moreno (West Side Story), Nina Arianda (Being the Ricardos), Reika Kirishima (Drive My Car), Judi Dench (Belfast)

Breakthrough Actor/Actress

Woody Norman may only be 11, but he shows the range of a middle aged professional actor in his performance as the inquisitive child, Jesse in C’mon C’mon. Norman delivers some of the biggest laughs and tears in his first major role, often stealing the show from co-star Joaquin Phoenix. Norman brings a tenderness to his role that stands apart from many child actors.

  1. Woody Norman (C’mon C’mon)
  2. Rachel Sennott (Shiva Baby)
  3. Ariana DeBose (West Side Story)
  4. Daniela Melchior (The Suicide Squad)
  5. Maya Vanderbeque (Playground)
  6. Honorable Mentions: Mike Faist (West Side Story), Adarsh Gourav (The White Tiger), Kuhoo Verma (Plan B), Jeremy T. Thomas (Antlers), Lilou Siauvaud (Stillwater)

Breakthrough Director

Much like the film’s lead character, director Lauren Hadaway brings a frantic ferocity to The Novice. Hadaway allows the rigor and difficulty level for rowing to be on full display here. Not only does the audience learn about the core techniques and terms associated with the sport, we also visually experience the white-knuckled sensation of rowing. Even though it’s her debut film, Hadaway proves that she’s no novice in the director’s chair.

  1. Lauren Hadaway (The Novice)
  2. Edson Oda (Nine Days)
  3. Emma Seligman (Shiva Baby)
  4. Fernanda Valadez (Identifying Features)
  5. Natalie Morales (Plan B & Language Lessons)
  6. Honorable Mentions: Benjamin Cleary (Swan Song), Amjad Abu Alala (You Will Die at Twenty), Michael Sarnoski (Pig), Lance Oppenheim (Some Kind of Heaven), Rebecca Hall (Passing)

Best Director

In a year filled with movie musicals, Steven Spielberg proves he’s still the master with direction that makes West Side Story (2021) feel like it was ripped from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Spielberg frames every scene in such a way that allows the music and choreography to take center stage and whisk the audience away into a magical world. Any fan of the genre will gasp in delight at the numerous Spielberg oners (a scene that subtly doesn’t cut from the action), particularly the sequence where Maria is getting dressed in the morning.

  1. Steven Spielberg (West Side Story)
  2. David Lowery (The Green Knight)
  3. Lauren Hadaway (The Novice)
  4. Jasmila Zbanic (Quo vadis, Aida?)
  5. Pablo Larrain (Spencer)
  6. Honorable Mentions: Edson Oda (Nine Days), Emma Seligman (Shiva Baby), Denis Villeneuve (Dune), Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (Drive My Car), Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog)

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