Best films of 2021: Irish critics name their favourites

Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog dominated, scooping several awards

Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog has dominated the Dublin Film Critics Circle (DFCC) awards for 2021. The powerful neo-western won best film, best director, best screenplay and, for Benedict Cumberbatch, best actor at the yearly poll.

Such domination is uncommon with these awards. Based on a novel by Thomas Savage, the film concerns a bitter Montana rancher who confronts supressed desires when his gentler brother marries a local widow.

Frances McDormand took the best actress award jointly for two performances: as a spirited boomer travelling the plains in Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland and as the psychotically ambitious Lady Macbeth in Joel Coen’s upcoming The Tragedy of Macbeth. McDormand won the 2020 best actress Oscar for the first film, but Nomadland counts as a 2021 release in these territories.

Best Irish film went to Tom Sullivan’s Arracht, an Irish-language drama set during the Famine, which has been steadily gathering praise since its premiere at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in late 2019.


Like so many other films, Arracht’s theatrical release was than delayed by the pandemic. “I think it has taken this long for the famine to become a talking point because we tumbled from the famine into the power of the Catholic Church,” Sullivan told The Irish Times in October.

It was a competitive year for domestic cinema. Runners-up for that prize included Tadhg O’Sullivan’s experimental documentary To The Moon, Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor’s off-beat thriller Rose Plays Julie, Phyllida Lloyd’s social drama Herself and Cathy Brady’s disturbing borderland saga Wildfire.

Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s rollicking, inspiring Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could not Be Televised), a celebration of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, won best documentary from the DFCC. Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, The Staple Singers and many other stars of the era appear in concert that has long been overshadowed by the chaotic near-contemporaneous Woodstock in a more remote part of New York State.

That last film can be seen on the Disney+ service. The Power of the Dog is now on Netflix. But a degree of normality is returning to the awards conversation. Most of the films mentioned in the DFCC awards – including Summer of Soul and The Power of the Dog – made their first appearance here in cinemas. The runners up for best film included Denis Villeneuve's epic Dune, Nomadland, David Lowery's muddy The Green Knight, and Thomas Vinterberg's Another Round. The variety of quality cinema remains remarkable.

The Dublin Film Critics Circle, whose president is this newspaper's Tara Brady, gathers voted from regular film critics across the capital. Previous winners of best film from the DFCC include Brokeback Mountain, Let the Right One In, Marriage Story and Portrait of a Lady on Fire. The DFCC also hands out annual awards at The Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival.

The DFCC awards forms part of the mosaic of gongs that now constitute “awards season”. Campion has already won the Silver Lion for best director at The Venice Film Festival and looks guaranteed to become the first woman ever to secure a second nomination for best director at the Academy Awards.

Cumberbatch has won applause from critics circles around the world, winning with the film reviewers of Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. He will, however, face strong competition at the Oscars from Will Smith, who plays Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena, in the more mainstream King Richard. Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, not released here until January, is still a narrow favourite for best picture at the Oscars. Should it win, it would become the first Irish film ever to secure that prestigious prize.

The Dublin Film Critics Circle Awards For 2021

Best Film

1 The Power of the Dog
2 Dune
3 Nomadland
4 The Green Knight
5 Another Round
6 Promising Young Woman
7 The Father
8 Minari
9 Pig
10 Azor

Best Director

1 Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog
2 Denis Villeneuve, Dune
3 Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman
4 David Lowery, The Green Knight
5 Steven Spielberg, West Side Story
6 Céline Sciamma, Petite Maman
7 Leos Carax, Annette
8 Michael Sarnoski, Pig
9 Darius Marder, Sound of Metal
10 Ben Sharrock, Limbo

Best Documentary

1 Summer of Soul
2 Acasa, My Home
3 The Sparks Brothers
4 To the Moon
5 Gunda
6 The 8th
7 Breaking Out
8 Love Yourself Today
9 The Truffle Hunters
10 The Rescue

Best Actor

1 Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog
2 Anthony Hopkins, The Father
3 Oscar Isaac, The Card Counter
4 Mads Mikkelsen, Another Round
5 Nicolas Cage, Pig
6 Steven Yeun, Minari
7 Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah
8 Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
9 Luca Marinelli, Martin Eden
10 Stanley Tucci, Supernova

Best Actress

1 Frances McDormand, The Tragedy of Macbeth; Nomadland
2 Kristen Stewart, Spencer
3 Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman
4 Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog
5 Natasa Stork, Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time
6 Jodie Comer, The Last Duel
7 Deragh Campbell, Anne at 13,000 Ft.
8 Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter
9 Claire Dunne, Herself
10 Youn Yuh-jung, Minari

Best Screenplay

1 Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog
2 Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman
3 David Lowery, The Green Knight
4 Lawrence Michael Levine, Black Bear
5 Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm, Another Round
6 Lee Isaac Chung, Minari
7 Chloé Zhao, Nomadland
8 Kelly Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond, First Cow
9 Andreas Fontana and Mariano Llinás, Azor
10 Ben Sharrock, Limbo

Best Cinematography

1 Greig Fraser, Dune
2 Andrew Droz Palermo, The Green Knight
3 Ari Wegner, The Power of the Dog
4 Claire Mathon, Spencer
5 Janusz Kami?ski, West Side Story
6 Daria D'Antonio, The Hand of God
7 Caroline Champetier, Annette
8 Gabriel Sandru, Azor
9 Nick Cooke, Limbo
10 Anthony Scott Burns, Come True

Best Irish Film

1 Arracht
2 To the Moon
3 Rose Plays Julie
4 Herself
5 Wildfire