Aaron’s 21 Favorite Movie Moments of 2021

From the Old West and Washington Heights to Harlem and 60's Soho, Aaron Neuwirth lists his favorite movie moments from 2021.

While I see my Top Ten Favorite Films list as something of a challenge (that is also exciting to put together), assembling a list of favorite movie moments is a lot of fun. Narrowing it down is difficult, as even some average movies have terrific moments in them. Still, there’s a lot of good that can come out of finding individual parts of any film that truly stuck out. For 2021, I narrowed it down to 21 memorable scenes. This list represents many fun, or crucial bits ranging from action set pieces to musical numbers to terrific monologues. Enjoy! (Note: There are spoilers for some films.)

Favorite Scenes Presented in Alphabetical Order by Film:

A Quiet Place Part II – Something Fell From The Sky

I ended up liking this sequel more than the first film, but something I’ve focused on is how these 90ish-minute fright flicks are essentially a series of terrific set pieces strung together, with little fat on them. I’m not sure if it gets any better than how Part II opens, with a look at the first encounter the Abbott family had with these aliens that have fallen from the sky. A mix of cleverly-staged long takes (a few shots seamlessly edited together), upgraded visual effects work, and perhaps the best acting I’ve seen from director John Krasinski during one particularly tense moment, Part II‘s prologue does a fantastic job to set the stage for what’s coming.

Annette – “So May We Start”

Speaking of elaborately shot prologues, the minds of Leos Carax and the band Sparks came together for a bizarre yet compelling musical that got off to the best start possible. Before digging into anything concerning the main story, the film opens on Ron and Russell Mael performing the song “So May We Start” in a studio, only to walk out, facing the camera, as it guides them along through the streets of LA, with stars Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg, and many more joining in to keep the beat. It’s the film’s catchiest tune, as well as a wonderfully inviting way to prepare the audience for the odd vibe of this story of the stand-up, the opera singer, and the arrival of their daughter.

Bad Trip – Car Crash

I’m fully prepared for the hilarious absurdity of Jackass: Forever next year, but I’m not sure if it will have the same combination of laughs and inspired profundity as Bad Trip. This movie is hysterical, but what caught me off guard is how stars Eric André and Lil Rel Howery were embraced by the real people caught up in their ridiculous pranks. The key is how this film is never mean-spirited. There are wild, profane pranks being played, but the performers are always the butt of the jokes. Unlike the Borat films, which have their place and highlight some sadder parts of American society, Bad Trip focuses on the inherent good in people. Several moments show the empathy these random individuals can show in even the most extreme situations. This car crash scene, for example, finds André and Howery acting like they are at each other’s throats. At the same time, random onlookers attempt to help, talking them down, making the right choices, and showing what good exists in a time when that’s not always a given. The fact that it’s also all very funny is only a greater bonus.

Dune – A Sandworm Swallows A Spice Harvester

Giant sandworms are enough to excite me for any movie, and Denis Villeneuve certainly knew how to deliver. Scale is a huge part of what makes Dune work, but the roles of culture and religion are at play too. These elements combine in a moment that fully qualifies this multi-part story as a sci-fi epic worth investing in. Shot with IMAX cameras, the entire sequence that finds Oscar Isaac’s Duke Leto Atreides, along with his son Paul (Timothée Chalamet) and right-hand man, Gurney (Josh Brolin), attempting to help evacuate workers from a huge machine, before one of these sandworms eats it is incredible to watch. Part of that sense of wonder comes from how little we see of the actual sandworm. Yet, the film, much like the native Fremen, has a way of treating these creatures as divine beings worthy of respect. Combined with further insight into Paul’s expanding mind, it’s a terrific spectacle.

Godzilla vs. Kong – Godzilla and Kong Crash Mechagodzilla Through A Building Together

Not to be outdone in terms of spectacle, the showdown I’ve been waiting for came and delivered. There are several moments I could highlight, with that aircraft carrier fight being everything one could ask for in a film like this. However, why focus on these two as enemies when we see how teamwork makes the dream work? After beating Kong (handily), an exhausted Godzilla now finds himself up against Mechagodzilla (who’s a huge jerk). The King o the Monsters takes some big blows, only to be saved by Kong. The two then team up, and in a moment that was just about everything to me, as I watched the film at its drive-in premiere with my lovely girlfriend, Godzilla and Kong grabbed the mechanical beast’s arms and crashed it through a building. That’s kaiju greatness at its finest.

In The Heights – “Good Morning, Usnavi”

“In the Heights” is a winning opening musical number that is catchy, high tempo, and does the work to introduce all the main cast members. It’s a familiar type of song, and I have just as much joy to take in from “96,000” and its choice to play as a modern Busby Berkeley number, or “Carnaval del Barrio,” which serves as a vibrant celebration of various cultures. There’s also the showstopper, “Paciencia y Fe,” which should ideally earn Olga Merediz an Oscar nomination. Still, that booming Jimmy Smits voice, as he enters Usnavi’s bodega for his daily Café con Leche, has not left my mind.

Last Night in Soho – First Night In 60’s Soho

Director Edgar Wright is no stranger to inventive visuals and wild camera movies. He brought both to the ambitious time-warp aspects of Last Night in Soho. In particular, the first night Thomasin McKenzie’s Eloise sleeps in her new room, her vivid dream that has her transported into the 1960s features a lot to marvel at. The wide shot featuring the huge Thunderball marquee as she makes her way to the Café de Paris is a terrific way to establish part of what’s occurring. Moments later, Eloise stares into a mirror only to find Anya Taylor-Joy’s Sandie looking back at her, adding further intrigue. The film blurs the lines even more by having the two seamlessly switch places at a moment’s notice, mid-dance, no less. There’s plenty of thrill and mystery taking place throughout this sequence.

Licorice Pizza – “Streisand”

Within a couple of minutes, hairstylist-turned-eventual-film-producer Jon Peters attempts to teach Cooper Hoffman’s Gary Valentine about how to pronounce the name of his girlfriend, Barbara Streisand, followed by acknowledging they’re both from the streets, and then threatening to murder Gary’s entire family if he messes up Peters’ home. Bradley Cooper is a riot in his extended cameo appearance during Licorice Pizza. It also becomes genuinely thrilling, as the gas crisis at that time in America leads to a wild action moment that finds Alana Kane (Alana Haim) guiding a truck backward downhill with the looming threat of an angry Peters seemingly tracking them down at every turn. The variety of tones and bravura direction speaks to why Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the current bests at what he does.

Malignant – Gabriel Unleashed

Once we have a complete understanding of who and what Gabriel is, the film stops dancing around him visually and lets us see all he is capable of. Sure, there was already a terrific foot chase in the center of the film, but the massacre of the inmates in the lockup, followed by the full-on Terminator-like force he delivers against the police precinct, is awe-inspiring in its horror chaos. Director James Wan’s chance to make a “one for him” film between Aquamans led to one wild ride of a wholly ridiculous and enjoyable film. The new horror villain he and his co-writers, including his wife, have created is one to remember. On top of all of that, Gabriel pulls off the chair throw of the year just because he could.

No Sudden Move – “This is Going to be a Punch”

Steven Soderbergh’s delightful and stylish crime thriller has a solid set of performers, a twisty plot, and another killer score from David Holmes. It also has some very funny moments that highlight the desperation of the characters. One that truly sticks out is a scene where David Harbour’s Matt Wertz must go to his boss’ house to retrieve a document. Wertz loves his job and absolutely does not want to do anything to ruin that, so his pleas to his boss to give him what he needs, only for him to threaten violence, would be heartbreaking were they not so funny. Wertz alerting his boss that he will punch him, and all the dialogue that follows is hilarious. There are a lot of moments of dark humor throughout No Sudden Move, but Harbour brings out some of the best emotions.

No Time To Die – Cuban Birthday Party For Blofeld

Within the longest Bond film lies a whole section that boils down the essence of a James Bond adventure to one big set piece. After being successfully recruited by Jeffrey Wright’s Felix Leiter, Bond joins with CIA operative Paloma (Ana de Armas) for a retrieval mission in Cuba. It turns out to be an intended ambush by Spectre, only for the tables to be turned rather dramatically. This scene has everything –great use of location, fancy costumes, larger-than-life villains, big action and fights, and lots of Bond’s signature style and drinking. Craig apparently requested Armas be cast after getting along on Knives Out, and the two have a blast together in their brief turn as partners in action, who also can’t stop taking shots while taking out henchmen and going after their target. Add Lashana Lynch’s new 007 to the mix as a foil for Bond, and there’s little missing as far as highlighting all the good that has come from Craig’s tenure as the famous spy.

Nobody / Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – Bus Fights

It was a good year for mainstream fight scenes set on buses, as we had not one but two that delivered the goods in films that were a lot of fun. Nobody worked as a darkly comedic action film satirizing repressed male rage, with 59-year-old Bob Odenkirk delivering the good as Hutch. His plan to beat up a bunch of thugs on a bus may have had unexpected results, but the scene’s bone-shattering choreography was a joy to behold. Speaking of, the introduction of the talents of Simu Liu’s Shang-Chi came through gloriously with his battle against Florian Munteanu’s Razor Fist and his cronies while aboard a bus full of passengers. Taking on the tone of a Jackie Chan film for good measure, this was an incredibly fun scene showing off’s Liu’s capabilities in a Marvel fantasy world. Both movies with bus scenes fared well.

Pig – Chef to Chef

The always engaged Nicolas Cage has knocked out a few stronger than average roles in recent years, but he dialed down his gonzo energy for this particularly intense yet intimate drama from debut filmmaker Michael Sarnoski. On the quest to retrieve his stolen truffle pig, Cage’s former Chef Rob Feld, at one point, finds himself criticizing the chef of a trendy restaurant. Remembering this chef as a prep cook he once fired, Rob digs into the man by recalling the dreams this chef once had to open a gastropub, only to settle for something far less rewarding. It’s a terrifically acted moment between these two performers, balancing tension, humor, and the surrealness of the situation for one impeccably designed meal of a scene.

Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) – Musa Jackson is Not Crazy

Being my favorite film of the year, there are a lot of moments from Summer of Soul I could list that serve as some of my favorites. There’s Stevie Wonder’s brilliant drum and piano solo, The 5th Dimension showing Harlem they were “Black enough” as a group, Mahalia Jackson performing “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” with Mavis Staples, the audience response to the moon landing, or even this bit where concert producer Tony Lawrence takes off his jacket and perfectly tosses it onto a piano behind him without looking. However, the person I want to highlight is festival attendee Musa Jackson. He was a boy when he attended, but his frequent commentary throughout the documentary is amusing and insightful. The moment, in particular, comes at the very end. He thanks director Questlove for showing him this footage, allowing him to proclaim, “I’m not crazy,” because while this event was nearly lost to history, Musa Jackson had these memories, and now this extraordinary time in his life is backed up by some fantastic proof.

The Green Knight – A Coward’s Vision

So much of The Green Knight focuses on Gawain’s (Dev Patel) focus on proving his honor to himself and establishing a legacy that could impress others. However, is he brave enough to truly complete the game laid before him by the Green Knight? While not immediately clear, in the midst of receiving a returning blow from the giant earthly creature, Gawain has a vision depicting him panicking and running back to Camelot. A near-wordless, extended montage follows, showing all the events of one possible future. Gawain becomes king, has a son (who dies in battle), is eventually reviled by his people, only to end up alone and headless. The reveal that this was indeed a vision allows the sequence to hold onto even more power, as Gawain’s journey feels even more impactful when he finally sees fit to properly kneel before the Green Knight and let whatever happens take place.

The Harder They Fall – “We Ain’t No Nincompoop Either”

Edging out a few films to perhaps stand as the coolest film of 2021, The Harder They Fall is not without several great moments emphasizing director Jeymes Samuel’s stylish choices and what the excellent ensemble cast is up to as these various western characters. Regina King’s Trudy Smith has the best character introduction of the year, as she walks her horse onto some train tracks, forcing a train containing an imprisoned Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) to stop. Following that up, Trudy proves she’s the no-nonsense muscle of Buck’s group by shooting the man daring to throw a racial epithet her way. This leads to another elaborate train car robbery headed by LaKeith Stanfield’s Cherokee Bill, who only wants to get Buck out of there. Still, bloodshed will follow because, hey, they’re outlaws.

The Last Duel – The Duel

Ridley Scott’s entertaining yet angry medieval tale based on actual events managed to gain plenty of acclaim for doubling as a fitting commentary of modern times, despite not fairing too well at the box office. After over two hours’ worth of time covering the events that would lead to two former friends fighting to the death, we see the actual duel take place, and it is glorious. Bloody, intense, and featuring violence that feels extreme even by Scott’s standards, the last legally sanctioned trial by combat lived up to expectations and then some. While brutal and skillfully handled, it’s not meant to be fun. Instead, we see characters at their worst and looking far beyond the person who was affected most by this whole ordeal, Jodie Comer’s Marguerite. In the end, while there was a winner, this violent spectacle had a different kind of power behind it to make it so memorable.

The Mitchells vs. The Machines – “Let the Dark Harvest Begin!”

A rapid-fire comedy like The Mitchells vs. The Machines has a lot of great gags to offer, and many that will become more apparent in revisits down the road. The entire sequence set in an abandoned mall that finds the Mitchell family taking on sentient toys and appliances is a brilliantly conceived bit of action and hysterical comedy. Once the Furby army appears, it only gets better. When the elder Furby arrives, proclaiming, “The pain only makes me stronger!” I lost it. There’s a sense of humor that the teams who work with Lord & Miller have that seemingly lines up with a lot of what makes me laugh, and this whole moment is a superbly animated riot.

The Suicide Squad – “If They Have Purpose, So Do We All”

One of James Gunn’s clear intentions with The Suicide Squad was to make a full-tilt comic book film. One could easily divide the many sections of this film into different issues. Having a kaiju-based finale coming in the form of Starro the Conqueror’s rampage on Corto Maltese would be a pretty wild issue. For all the violence and chaos, the ultimate finale of this sequence has an alarming amount of brilliance. The combination of Harley Quinn piercing a hole into Starro’s eye and Ratcachter 2 summoning the city’s rats to climb inside and gnaw their way to victory is bloody, disgusting, and oddly perfect. The brief flashback to Taika Waititi’s Ratcatcher explaining the purpose of rats, mixed with John Murphy’s excellent score, allows all of this imagery to come together in a totally off-the-wall way. It entirely fits for Gunn’s big-budget Troma film.

The Worst Person in the World – The World Stops

In director Joachim Trier’s wonderful romantic comedy-drama focused on a modern woman living in Oslo and sorting out her life and relationships, a few stylish choices emerge to elevate the film. One particularly memorable moment finds Julie (Renate Reinsve) having a sudden epiphany about who she wants to be with. The whole world suddenly freezes around her, essentially pausing all action in place, as Julie then runs through the city to meet her new lover. It feels like a moment out of a Michel Gondry film, but entirely fitting for what The Worst Person in the World has to offer.

West Side Story – Shadows Collide, Time to Rumble

Steven Spielberg absolutely crushed his goal of making a big musical production with his modern adaptation of West Side Story. Among the great things about this film are the visuals. Lensed by long-time collaborator Janusz Kamiński, while there are plenty of great approaches to the many musical numbers, including the vibrant street life seen in “America” and the interpretive dance fighting found in “Cool,” it’s hard for me to look past a moment that feels like something Spielberg has had in his head for years. Later in the film, the Jets and the Sharks meet at their arranged time for the rumble. Watching the two groups arrive leads to their shadows on opposing sides of the screen slowly coming together. It emphasizes the tangled web of misunderstandings, anger, and bravado fueling the need to fight. The actual rumble ends in tragedy, of course, but the staging of this whole affair is tremendous.


That’s it for my list of moments, but there were plenty I cut from this list. What say you?

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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