The best films of the 2021 list would never be complete without talking about the fact that cinemas are back in action (at least in some parts of the world). Also, while most of the film festivals from across the world choose to go online, Cannes, and possibly some other major ones are going to follow pursuit with their in-person, socially-distanced screenings outdoors.
If the pandemic has taught us something then it has to be the idea of isolation and loneliness being some of the most powerful tools that can be used by filmmakers. More so, it has also bestowed us (by us, I mean me) with a new lens of looking at things. I have discovered a new form of appreciation for everyone involved with a film. Since the COVID-19 gave us a plethron of films about people staying inside, it also allowed the glitz and glamour to come directly to our small screens.
A whole lot of filmmakers and actors who always seemed far removed joined us from the comfort of their homes in a direct tête-à-tête In a way, it made me believe in the humane emotions they bring to the screen. This change happened because they no more seem all the more godly anymore. If not for anything, I would look at the pandemic as a time frame that helped make all of us recheck our privilege.
That said, let’s dive into why we are here. I am noting down 50 movies of 2021 that I feel really stood out for me. These are those films of 2021 that don’t necessarily follow the Hollywood formula but actually carve a niche for themselves.
Jessica Kingdon’s new documentary is a scathing look at the Chinese dream through a sharp and occasionally funny lens. While a certain someone might have a completely different picture about how the contemporary Chinese economy really works, Kingdon’s documentary clears off the path for those people who are benign pawns in the rat race of being the best at their work.
Using a rather inaccessible, observant class structure where she closely pans her camera over the various tiers of the labor class, Ascension readily dismembers the typical interview-like structure of documentaries. The result is a piercing, understated look at how people are twisted into believing that they are doing something for the greater good.
Related to The Best Films of 2021 – Ascension : ‘Tribeca’ Review – An impressionistic look at the tendrils of Capitalism
49. Stop & Go
While I think it was too soon for a COVID comedy, the SXSW premiering title made me rethink my idea of what’s too soon. The premise is pretty simple. Two sisters, in the midst of the seriousness of the pandemic, embark on a cross-country road trip to break out their elderly grandmother from a nursing home.
What makes the film click is the incredible, often silly but sweet chemistry between real-life friends and leads Whitney Call & Mallory Everton. Whitney, who also co-wrote the constantly funny film, makes her back and forth with Mallory feel like it comes from a really fun relationship that they share with each other. Unlike most road-trip films that fall in the same category, Stop & Go (formally titled Recovery) features two loveable women who are like a rock of support for each other even in the low points of life. Making this small film feel like a lifesaver in a time when nothing feels fixed.
Related to the Best Films of 2021 – Recovery : ‘SXSW’ Review – A Charming, Clever COVID Comedy
On the surface and from the misleading trailer, Pig might seem like a hermit-styled John Wick reworking. However, in the abled hands of director Sarnoski, it becomes something greater.
Following Nicholas Cage in a role that he will be remembered for a long, long time, Pig is a movie that uses Cage’s rawness to tell a beautifully realized tale of loss and the coping mechanism that we often use to ultimately drive it away from us. However, in that attempt, we often forget how closely related we become with the other presences that lie around us, making our lives feel like a relatively straightforward narrative that works on the affection we have for others.
Related to Best Movies of 2021 – Pig Movie Explained: Ending, themes & Existential dilemmas analyzed
47. The French Dispatch
I will be frank here; I am a Wes Anderson stan in spite of the heat he has been getting over the years. With every Anderson movie, no matter how good, bad, or mediocre they are, I feel transported into a whirlwind of a carefully constructed world that can never feel real because of its precise construction. And yet, the teleporting aspect of his stories takes you on a first-hand experience – almost as if the camera is dollied up on your waist as you witness his world running on a tank full.
With The French Dispatch, Anderson knows where his story lags. To fill these holes up, he uses his visual creativeness, resulting in a narrative that pays homage to the written word. It also helps that he acknowledges the fact that he has often omitted a diverse cast by finally stepping down from his white privilege.
Related to the Best Films of 2021 – The French Dispatch  ‘BFI’ Review: A Quirky cast, stunning shots, but little else
46. A Cop Movie
Alonso Ruizpalacios is slowly emerging as one of the most exciting Mexican filmmakers. If you haven’t seen his incredible, black-and-white debut Gueros (2014), or the equally investing if slight Gael Garcia Bernal vehicle Museo (2018), now is the time for you to know him up close. He is a filmmaker who uses his strange, quirky tone to investigate identity and contemporary Mexican society is its many downfalls.
In his Berlinale premiering, Netflix film A Cop Movie, Ruizpalacios investigates the powerlessness that police work comes with. While contemporary films have often portrayed and glorified the profession, the director looks at a pair of Mexican city cops and how they deal with the everyday struggle of being on the streets. With an unpredictable, suave, and bewildering quasi-documentary structure, the film eventually delves into the grimness of certain decisions and limitations that only art can excavate.
Also, Read – 10 Movies With A Surprising Second Half
45. John and the Hole
Pascual Sisto’s John and the Hole has the kind of disturbing sensibilities that can be found only in a Micheal Haneke film. To put it into perspective, the film is about a young boy named John (played by a standout Charlie Shotwell) who one day decides to drug his father, mother, and sister and hold them captive in a big hole in their backyard.
Sisto, who is also a visual artist builds an incredible sense of dread with the abled help of the music by Caterina Barbieri. The result is a black comedy and a dark coming-of-age film that also serves as an allegory for alienation faced by young people in the face of adult supervision. The best way to describe the film comes from the horse’s mouth; the director calls his film a version of Home Alone if it was directed by Haneke. It couldn’t be more accurate!
Related to Best Films of 2021 – 15 Must-See Coming of Age Films of 2020
44. Parallel Mothers
With Pedro Almodóvar’s “Parallel Mothers,” the Spanish filmmaker finally comes out to dive into the collective tortured, political history of his nation. While his focus is still on the more dramatic events of his story about two mothers, it is the intent I respect more than the final result itself.
Led by Penelope Cruz & Milena Smit, who play the two mothers, this is a tense circumstantial drama about the fates that women find themselves in when their situations plod them head-first into confusion. While not as complex as it initially feels, with its political subtext feeling stamped on more than organically investigated, this is still a very important step taken by a renowned filmmaker.
Related to the Best Movies of 2021 – Parallel Mothers Movie Explained: Ending & Themes Analyzed
43. I Was a Simple Man
In I Was a Simple Man, director Christopher Makoto Yogi looks at the final moments of Masao’s (Steve Iwamoto) life – an ailing old man who refuses to inhibit the city life in spite of the advancement of his life-threatening illness. Paying equal attention to the people it captures as it does to the environment around them, Yogi uses the setting of an old, run-down house as a narrative device and procures an ethereal, almost tranquil atmosphere that powers this understated ghost story.
The Honolulu-born filmmaker’s sophomore effort thus becomes a deeply meditate look at death and memory. It is as if Yogi wishes to say that our imminent death and the flashback of the life we lived, is in fact, a haunting afterlude where we all become a product of the environment and the environment becomes a product of our decadence.
Similar to the Best Films of 2020 – A Matter of Life and Death  Review: A Timeless Treasure of British Cinema
A few weird things make the Norwegian pregnancy comedy truly stand out. Firstly, it stars Kristine Kunath Thorp in a breakout role as Rakel – a twentysomething, good-for-nothing, comic-book artist whose wild, party-like life comes to a halt when she discovers she is pregnant; that too almost 6 months in, and there’s no going back. Secondly, her drawing book cum diary has manifested a caricaturish image of a kid who speaks to her about being her future son and how bad she is going to be as a mom.
Yngvild Sve Flikke’s Ninjababy is a quirky, immensely funny, off-kilter look at a woman trying her best to not grow up because she isn’t ready for it. More so, she isn’t even aware of the tools that she has to use in order to grow up. The unplanned pregnancy not only nudges her many cores, but also allows her to understand where her emotional core really lies.
Related to the Best Films of 2020 – Ninjababy : ‘SXSW’ Review – A Charming, Smart Take on Pregnancy and Coming-of-Age
41. Red Rocket
Classic male fantasy cleverly canceled and subverted by females sticking together. Sean Baker, a champion American filmmaker who knows that setting up a simplistic premise can’t withhold grounds if not put in clever political and social subtext, is here with Red Rocket; yet another vibrant look at American lives that are not often seen being depicted on the silver screen.
While not as bold or complex as Baker’s other works, the film mostly works despite having Mikey Saber (played by a superb Simon Rex), who is a grossly unlikable character as the lead.
Self-aware and funnier than most comedies of 2021, Baker leaves the audience in a place where they are left with introspection; and I suppose that is a great place to be.
40. Judas and the Black Messiah
2020 was the year when Black Lives Matter really saw the light of the day. A revolution that has been simmering under the surface since 2013 returned to mainstream media after the George Floyd Protests sparked a route for rethinking about police brutality in the USA. The global attention to the revolution was another instance of how relevant and pressing the issues are even today.
Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah is about one such revolution and a revolutionary whose name cannot be killed off from the history books. King paints his story with electrifying exuberance and urgency that puts this retelling of the Black Panthers right on top with other great ones about the community in a siege.
Related to Best Films of 2021 – Judas and the Black Messiah : ‘Sundance’ Review – Daniel Kaluuya is electrifying in this powerful tale about the BPP
39. The Last Duel
The Last Duel is Ridley Scott’s ‘Rashomon.’ An engrossing tale about a woman’s truth in a man’s world.
Following a three-act structure that re-traces the same events from three-point of view, this historical drama is set in medieval France but is as urgent as anything you would see set in the contemporary world.
Matt Damon stars as Jean de Carrouges, a respectable but uptight knight who challenges a former friend Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) to battle when Carrouges’s wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer) accuses him of raping her. Led by an exceptional and frankly overlooked performance by Comer, The Last Duel is a movie that is as tense as any thriller of 2021.
Related to the Best Films of 2021 – The Last Duel (2021) Review: Ridley Scott’s Foray into Revisionist Filmmaking
38. Italian Studies
Adam Leon (know for Netflix’s ‘Tramps‘) returns with a truly experimental, almost Godard-ian deconstruction of indie films structure. Italian Studies plays out entirely on the streets of New York City and follows Alina Reynolds played by Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman, The World to Come) as a mysterious, amnesiac woman who may or may not be a writer.
Much of the film takes a look at a shape-shifting, time-dissolving entity where Leon’s lens tries to capture a wholly original state of memory construction with a conscious effort put into realizing how art requires rebirths quite so often. Since it defies any sort of concrete meaning, the film can only form multiple likelihoods. It can be about artists trying to get into a newer perspective in order to make their work unique, or just a minimalistic metaphor for human nature and the need to survive, in spite of little hope in hindsight.
Related to Best Films of 2020 – Complete Tribeca Coverage
37. A Hero
Asghar Farhadi’s “A Hero” has now been thrown into the back-burner, making its greatness and the occasional flawed nature of its narrative turns feel like redundant entities. In light of the controversy for its supposed plagiarised content, Farhadi’s return to his homeland after the dubious attempt at his Spanish-language debut in “Everybody Knows” is as heartwrenching and tense as his renowned Oscar-winning “A Separation.”
Following the life of Rahim – a man imprisoned due to his inability to repay a debt; released for a two-day leave, the film runs on all cylinders when a good deed done by him turns into a series of twisted but realistic conflicts that ruin the idea of his freedom itself.
Also, Read – Why A Hero (2021) is Farhadi’s Close-Up; An Analysis of Farhadi’s Filmmaking Mechanics!
36. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy
Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy works on life’s many coincidences. Life can be a total roller coaster when the past comes out to play in a pretty unfamiliar fashion. In Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s latest film, three separate stories about women play out of sheer coincidence. Titled ‘Magic,’ ‘Door Wide Open’ & ‘Once Again,’ this isn’t one of those anthologies where the whole doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts.
In fact, this is the rare instance where I would go ahead and say that these three different short stories should and could not exist without each other. In spite of the differences in their range, these tales are deeply seated in modern relationships, their misrepresentation, and how memories of a time once had often fade in to keep ourselves going.
Related to the Best Films of 2020 – Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy : ‘Berlinale’ Review – A Gorgeous Trifecta About the Conversations that Bind Us
French filmmaker Julia Ducournau’s follow-up to her cannibalistic horror film Raw is yet another violently visceral look at some of the same themes. With Titane, the filmmaker just went extra wild, crazy and original.
Following Alexia’s (Agathe Rousselle) life – a showgirl at a motor show, and a thirst for new flesh, this is a powerful and fucked up look at rebirth. Using her violent edginess to the best of her abilities, Ducournau’s coming-of-age arc is far blunter, and her look at sexuality and the nature of the human condition is extremely potent.
While it might feel like the filmmaker has gone wits out in her sophomore feature (which is far more experimental and vague than her debut), Titane feels like a complete journey by the time her excessively loaded and metaphorical climax arrives. Both a seriously unsettling & squeamish serial killer movie and a compassionate & searing look at acceptance, this is a one-of-a-kind representation of the gender-fluid generation.
Related to Best Movies of 2021 – Titane Movie Explained: Ending, Themes & Identity Crisis Analysed
34. Bergman Island
In Mia Hansen-Løve’s Bergman Island, an American filmmaking couple lands on the mythical Faro Island (known as the island inhabited by the great Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman) to find inspiration for the art they are about the create. Gaining momentum that is transcribed by their gendered biases, memories – both new & old, and the love for the artform itself, this laid-back vacation drama holds all its affective hooks up close.
Meta to the tee, this is story that is as much about self-reflective ideation on what an arduous task it is to make a film; on top of finding proper human values in it, as it is about questioning and reinventing what perspires on the screen with changing times.
Bergman Island is not a straightforward homage because it is as critical of Bergman’s work as it harkens to it, but there is no second say that it is movie-making and the love for the complexity of interpersonal relationships that shapes this narrative.
Some brilliant new female filmmakers have recently emerged out of Kosova. If films like Aga’s House & Zana were not examples enough, the post-Kosavaian independence in 2008 has given us another powerful gem in Hive. Directed by debutant Blerta Basholli, the film follows the life of a half-widow in search of her missing-in-action post-war husband whilst she gets a driver’s permit and hatches an elaborate business plan to run her home.
Mother to two children and an elderly father-in-law to feed, Fahrije (a brilliant Yllka Gashi) fights the narrow-minded eyes of the patriarchal town she lives in to gives us a truly remarkable real-life story of one woman’s resilience against all odds. Directed with a sensitive touch of early genius, Basholli uses Fahrije’s struggle to keep her husband’s beehives in order as an incredible metaphor for her catharsis. Leaving us, the audience with a feeling of understated hopefulness.
Also, Read – Complete Sundance Coverage
32. Moon, 66 Questions
Taking care of another person is not just a job in itself, it’s a full-time responsibility that also involves getting physically and mentally drained and acquainted with another person. In Jacqueline Lentzou’s poetically titled Moon, 66 Questions, a daughter reunites with her estranged father when he is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
After a lot of critically acclaimed short films, Lentzou presents an unconventional look at familial structures. Using her keen eye for finding the rhythm in the mundane, she has structured a soothing, melancholic, and complex look at a father-daughter relationship. It is a truly delicate and heartwarming revaluation of an estranged relationship that wishes these characters find the words that can help them make peace with the past.
Related to Best Films of 2021 – Moon, 66 Questions : ‘Berlinale’ Review – A delicate, understated look at the complexity of estranged relationships
31. Human Factors
It all begins when a break-in happens in a French-German family’s vacation home. The family of four consists of son Max (wanja Valentin Kube), daughter Emma (Jule Hermann), mother Nina (Sabine Timoteo), and husband Jan (Mark Waschke). The couple runs a successful ad agency that has recently acquired a political client and things have started heating up. The film is mostly centered around this slight escape they take when work tensions grow stronger.
This is only the second of the two movies of 2021 to have a huge Haneke influence. Ronny Trocker’s Human Factors is an incredibly smart thriller that uses its Roshomon-esque structure to deconstruct the cracks in this family in crisis. While it plays out around the break-in, it is more interested in the how and when things started going south for the family.
Egyptian filmmaker Omar El Zohairy’s Feathers is an absurdist tragic comedy about a mother forced to fend for herself when a birthday party goes wrong, and a magician accidentally turns her husband into a chicken. After dedicating her entire life to her husband and children, this woman struggles to bring her husband back, repay his debt and manage to keep her household in check.
The film features a moody, almost surreal narrative that focuses on capturing how men fumble when faced with responsibility and how women have to face the wrath of their deeds. Moreover, it goes a step ahead and deals with how systematic oppression – especially towards women happen in middle-eastern countries. Feathers eventually traverse its hopeless path with a subtle, freeing spirit that only wings could provide.
29. Everything Went Fine
French director François Ozon’s work has been so diverse and divisive that I often double question myself before getting into a new film that he has made. With Everything Went Fine, he adapts the acclaimed book by Emmanuèle Bernheim by centering the narrative around Bernheim (Sophie Marceau), one of the daughters of the ailing André (André Dussollier).
While this is essentially a film about Euthanasia, Ozon opts for a more personal, familial-centric approach that relies as much on situational comedy as it does on an emotional drama that never uses its poignancy for manipulation. The result is a wonderfully rounded film that is unexpectedly funny and moving in equal measures.
Related to Best Films of 2021 – The 10 Best Comedy Movies of 2021
28. Compartment No. 6
Juho Kuosmanen’s Compartment No. 6 has often been touted as a Finnish Before Sunrise, but the purity and unpretentiousness with which it unfolds don’t amount to that comparison. Moreover, the film has a therapeutic quality that doesn’t condition the viewer about how they need to feel at given instances of time, making its simplistic narrative feel like a blessing.
Following Laura (an excellent Seidi Haarla), an unassuming Finish woman who has embarked on an impulsive journey to the Arctic port of Murmansk, this unhurried movie takes a self-introspective look while also giving us one of the more understated windows into companionship.
27. Writing with Fire
Watching Sushmit Ghosh & Rintu Thomas Oscar-nominated documentary did a few things for me personally. Firstly, it made me aware of Khabar Lahariya – a local Indian newspaper that is run entirely by women. Secondly, and sadly, the film’s eventual fate in a country run by a biased, propaganda-driven government that will make sure it never sees the light of the day.
Anyhow, fierce in its discourse and politically charged to the point of untethered honesty, Writing With Fire is a great documentation, just for the rawness, it brings to the table. It doesn’t need to be technically sound because it is the voice that rings louder than TRPs ever can.
Similar to the Best Films of 2021 – Writing with Fire  Review: A Well-Told Story of Grassroots-Level Journalism
26. Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry
Despite an overly familiar pop-star persona that the internet has made out of 19-year-old Billie Eilish and the amount of prejudice I had before getting into this 2 hours, 21-minute long hangout movie, I was completely lost in awe of the life that the star has conjured up for herself.
R.J. Cutler’s documentary is an honest documentation of a sensational young woman and her ability to withstand all the clutter to produce and connect to a generation of people through her voice. Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry captures the confidence, success, and vulnerability that formulates the backstage persona of a pop star who is as honest on stage as she is behind it, back home.
Related to the Best Movies of 2021 – The 14 Best Apple Original Films, Ranked
Ivan Ayr’s sophomore film is just as subtle and hard-hitting as Soni, his directorial debut. Following Ghalib (Suvinder Pal Vicky), a veteran driver suffering from a sudden backache, the film channels traditional problems that are rooted in a slight but essential political subtext, with a more personal and existential dread that looms on his shoulders.
As Ghalib reaches the 500,000-kilometer mark – a record only he holds in the company that has employed him, he is asked to train a young new prodigy that might just take his place. Tackling hefty issues of personal regrets with that of class and economic divide, Milestone achieves to breathe raw poetry into the lives of people we don’t often see on screen.
Similar to the Best Films of 2021 – Milestone  Netflix Review – Harsh and humane, Ivan Ayr’s film richly mines inner desolation
24. The Hand of God
This is Paolo Sorrentino’s Amarcord. Or, to put it more simply, a homage to a time and place that is very dear to him. While tonally different from his usual dramas, The Hand of God has to be Sorrentino’s most personal, albeit low-key, outing. It is a semi-autobiographical tale told with the precedence of a filmmaker who is on the verge of finally understanding himself. A true coming-of-age story that tackles themes like trauma, heartbreak, and adulthood being thrust upon a boy with a light but immersive touch.
The result is a film that doesn’t just look beautiful but also prophecies that beauty is one of the many things that keeps people going. Be it the beauty of a game you love, a body you worship, or an art form that you simply can’t get enough of.
Similar to the Best Movies of 2021 – 8 Films to Watch if you like The Hand of God on Netflix
23. Once Upon a Time in Calcutta
Capturing the ever-changing city of Joy at its most morose, Bengali filmmaker Aditya Vikram Sengupta chooses a broader lens for his third directorial venture. Opting for a narrative and thankfully character-driven approach in comparison to his more experimental and abstract previous films, Once Upon a Time in Calcutta takes a complex look at a bunch of characters in a city that is not only transforming its landscape but is also slowly succumbing to a sort of identity crisis that makes it unrecognizable – even to tested eyes.
Finding lyrical beauty in melancholy, the film looks at these characters and their caged existence within the situations that they find themselves in. As the narrative isn’t too cruel to its characters as it is to modernization that completely wrecks and reshapes the city, the identity, trauma, and loss of a time and place feels more palpable, making the overall impact of the film much more intrinsic.
Related to the Best Films of 2021 – Once Upon a Time in Calcutta : ‘Venice’ Review – A Nuanced and Intimate Portrait of Urban Decay and Metamorphosis
22. The Girl and the Spider
People hold on to each other as long as they can. However, separation is inevitable. If not death, then a change of place or the need to grow up often puts people in flux. In director brothers Ramon and Silvan Zürcher’s The Girl and the Spider this need or desire to hold on is laid bare in the confinements of the space it pans out in.
Like its title, the film is a culmination of stories told with a special penance for how people react to them. This is a film that hides its longing and loneliness within slight gazes. It is a story about change and alienation told through an uncompromisingly original, tantalizing, and opaque narrative that curiously moves like a dancer doing their best bit.
Related to Best Films of 2021 – The Girl and the Spider : ‘Berlinale’ Review – A powerfully choreographed exploration of alienation
21. The Humans
The dysfunctionality in The Humans, a screen adaption of director Stephen Karam’s own Tony-winning play, comes from a very basic American need – Money. The family in question has gathered together in the new (if new means rustic, old and broken) apartment that their youngest one has moved into with her boyfriend. It is Thanksgiving, and togetherness is in the air.
However, soon after they start settling in, cracks within the familial structure start to appear like dampness that comes out of nowhere in old flats. What follows is a dark and intense revealing of secret and buried trauma that comes to the surface within the structures of a haunted-house saga. Basically, it boils down to the fact that some people are too poor to go to therapy, so they keep ruining life for the ones close to them.
20. The Restless
The Restless rests entirely on the shoulder of stars Damien Bonnard & Leïla Bekhti, and the duo carries this entire paranoid drama like a couple of champions. Also playing characters that inhibit their names, this COVID set film is about a family and their struggle with Damien’s bipolar disorder.
If not for anything else, The Restless truly stands by its title and gives the audience an experience where they can genuinely witness the wayward spiral mental illness puts you in. It also exhibits an accurate depiction of what it is like to suffer from bipolar disorder while also denoting what it is like to be a caregiver to this said person. It is a devastating, tense, and straightforward film that needs to be seen.
Also, Read – 25 Best Movies Set in a Mental Asylum
19. Sardar Udham
Shot with the precision of a glorious Cold War epic, Shoojit Sircar’s Sardar Udham is an essential freedom-fighter film that doesn’t follow the set parameters that we have come to expect from the industry. Instead, it uses a non-linear narrative and a mammoth runtime of 162 minutes to intercut a character and his approach to his own humanity with that of collective agony and tragedy faced by a nation.
Vicky Kaushal plays Udham Singh with a morose precision. As if his dominant jingoism is now an afterthought, and he is out to make a really important statement, Sardar Udham paints a vivid picture of oppression and imperialism. Sircar cleverly sets his tale so that the revenge at its center is used as a primary plot point in the lure of giving the more palpable political context a contemporary treatment. One can quickly draw parallels to everything wrong with the current government or any powerful body that chooses control over fundamental human rights, making the impact of this film even more tactile.
Similar to the Best Films of 2021 – Sardar Udham  Review: A Slow but Steady Exploration through the Annals of the Aftermath of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre
18. El Planeta
Amalia Ulman’s El Planeta plays out like the mid-90’s American indies that featured television-like screen transitions. It is not just a mere throwback but also a way to announce that Ulman is taking up pieces of cinematic history to fuel an original, black comedy about a mother and daughter refusing to accept their financial stance in post-crisis Spain.
Simply put, the film is about the strange relationship that Leonor (the director herself) and her mother María (Ale Ulman) share. Leonor is a London-returned freelance stylist who is back in town due to her father’s death. In grief and her inability to live a pristine life; Maria has resorted to either being at home freezing hand-written notes with names of her enemies, or taking random rounds to her favorite stores as she tries to shoplift her way through them. Basically, this is a film about a mother and daughter bonding with each other over shared tragedy. The chemistry between the real-life mother-daughter greatly uplifts the material, making it one of 2021’s standout movies.
Related to Best Films of 2021 – El Planeta : ‘Sundance’ Review – Spanish hangout comedy is a stoic look at the perils of a gig economy
17. On the Count of Three
On the Count of Three is about the demons we carry within us. It is about empathy in a life that needs every shred of it, in order to keeps things steady. This is a film that revels in the chaos of everyday life, making the occasional implausibility feel earned rather than desperate.
Purposefully unstable and direct, the film marks another great performance from Christopher Abbot, who is ably supported by Carmichael (also marking his debuts as a director here). It is a risky game that the film plays as the self-serious tone muxed with the comedy doesn’t sit right with everyone – especially when it uses Papa Roach’s ‘Cut my Life Into Pieces’ as a sort of suicide anthem; but that just depends on how well you can take a joke. I sure did!
Similar to Best Films of 2021 – On the Count of Three : ‘Sundance’ Review – Constantly funny bromance takes a sharp look at men’s mental health
16. The Fallout
A true standout from this year’s SXSW film festival, Megan Park’s The Fallout caters to some pretty heavy themes that are evoked post a school mass shooting. It specifically looks at the life of two teenagers who have to deal with the trauma and pain that the incident leaves them with.
While being sensitive to the issues at hand, Park’s film doesn’t lead these kids to become some kind of matured version of themselves instantly. Instead, she lets their swanky characters, their dumb reactions, and their reasons to look within feel palpable and incredibly real. The film expresses how different young people cope with tragedy. Some shout at their parents, some turn it into art, some do drugs, and some just talk it out. Park’s film understands the concept of time as a healer, even though it also knows that triggers are omnipresent and relapse is only miles away. It does everything with humor but never lets it overpower the emotions at its center. This is exactly why it is one of the best and most powerful movies of 2021.
Related to the Best Films of 2021 – Complete SXSW coverage
The writing and performances in Fran Kranz’s debut film Mass are so extraordinary that one has to look beyond the fact that it isn’t very cinematic. This is essentially a chamber piece that takes place inside one room where 4 characters basically sit down and talk to each other.
To give you more perspective, this is a film about two sets of parents who agree to meet after six years of a major tragedy in their lives. Jason Isaacs & Martha Plimpton star as the parents of the deceased victim of a mass shooting, while Reed Birney & Ann Dowd are the parents of the kid who did the killing. Without taking sides, Kranz lets his set of characters play it out – leading up to an incredibly moving and cathartic experience for both the characters and the viewers.
14. The Killing of Two Lovers
Lord almighty. What an excellent little drama that builds unprecedented tension out of just one single moment of impulsiveness. The Killing of Two Lovers uses its astounding sound design and gorgeous cinematography to capture some kind of mental violence that’s taking a toll on its protagonist’s fate.
Following David (Clayne Crawford) on a couple of uneventful days that follow the separation from his wife and him realizing that she is sleeping with someone else on their trial separation, The Killing of Two Lovers is the tale of a husband and a father seething with rage while he tries to keep his family intact. Showing excellent skill behind the camera, director Robert Machoian’s solo directorial debut is something else.
Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Flee owes a lot to Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir. But unlike the latter, this is neither an anti-war film that borderlines propaganda, nor does it try to manipulate you into feeling things. Rasmussen’s film uses animation to hide the identity of its main character Amin – a survivor and refugee who escaped the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, only to arrive alone in Denmark by way of Russia.
To top it off, it also tells an incredibly moving tale about the secrets that he hid from everyone (including his sexuality) for a long period of time. Rasmussen’s moving documentary uses gorgeous animation to tell a tale of survival and resilience and leads up to a moment of absolute, hopeful catharsis. It’s only a big plus that the entire conversation between the director and the subject feels like sitting as a third witness to a calming therapy session.
Similar to The Best Films of 2021 – Flee  Review: A Gripping Tale of the Pursuit to Find a Home
12. The Worst Person in the World
Contrary to what the title suggests, Joachim Trier’s round-off of The Oslo Trilogy is a straightforward romantic comedy for those of us who hate the genre. Co-written by Eskil Vogt, who tells Julie’s (Renate Reinsve) tale in 12 chapters, The Worst Person in the World is a glorious tale of embracing youth and its wayward spirals that keep channeling between two options – both of which feel correct at a given instant in time.
Exuberating pepped-up Frances-Ha-esque energy, this is one of the sharpest, most intelligently told coming-of-age tales about the inevitability of realizing that we are not meant to be unique, even though every ounce of our body and mind tells us to. Featuring a star-making turn by Renate Reinsve, who dominates every frame of this picture, The Worst Person in the World captures millennial angst like none other.
Every time Kristen Stewart’s Princess Diana rides a series of manipulative, misogynistic, and repressive waves of paranoia in Pablo Larraín’s “Spencer,” it sends shivers down the viewer’s mind and body. Such is the power of this exceptionally mounted mood piece, coupled with the strength of Stewart’s acting, that this reworking of the traditional biopic feels like a housebound horror film.
Thanks to Johnny Greenwood’s blistering and haunting score, Spencer becomes no less than a Gothic fable; an uncompromising, unhinged, and frankly unfiltered look at the gloss painted over empty lives and a character study that slowly peels it off.
Related to the Best Movies of 2021 – Spencer (2021) Review: An Admirable Film That Evades All Tired Biopic Tropes
10. The Green Knight
The fact that David Lowery’s magnanimous new film is based on a poem makes its expansive gaze all the more overwhelming to fathom. It is both a mystical coming-of-age fantasy and a low-key medieval epic at the same time.
Bolstered with excellent camera work and a score that makes sure its ecological metaphors don’t fall upon deaf ears, The Green Knight is a confounding look at how a young mind thrown into the mud of growing up, copes with the changes around him.
Following the quest of King Arthur’s headstrong nephew, the film captures the ethereal sense of slowly succumbing to one’s limitations whilst accepting one’s fate and the power of nature and women over oneself. Refusing to just be about a particular thematical milieu, The Green Knight thus becomes an adventure about a man trying to find what makes him what he is.
Related to The Best Films of 2021 – The Green Knight (2021) Review: The Cyclical Battle Between Rot And Growth
Based on the 1929 Nella Larsen novel of the same name, Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut Passing is an extraordinary film about two childhood friends who reunite after a huge chunk of their lives has gone by. While Irene (Tessa Thompson) lives with her well-off doctor husband played by André Holland, Claire (Ruth Negga) is married to a racist white businessman played by Alexander Skarsgård. The flipside is, Claire’s husband has no idea that his wife is, in fact black.
Bleak, dreamy, and unsettling in just the right dose, Hall’s black and white wonder is a film about navigating biracial identity. Since its main focus doesn’t lead you into racial tension of the times, the film becomes a singular, deeper, and mysterious enigma about desires and an inability to withstand what one becomes with time. Hall’s direction is self-assured and packs a strong subtext that might warrant repeated viewings.
Similar to the Best Movies of 2021 – Passing  Netflix Review: An Enthralling Minuscule Masterpiece that Establishes Rebecca Hall as a Strong Storyteller
8. Licorice Pizza
Coming from the master American filmmaker, ‘Licorice Pizza’ trends on pretty familiar grounds. The fact that it is about two people coming-of-age in the 70s makes it all the more intimate, simplistic, and far away from what Paul Thomas Anderson is expected to make after the complex intersectionality of Phantom Thread.
But here we are with a waterbed of a film that sways and moves, runs and falls, along with Alana Kane and Gary Valentine. Two people navigating the treacherous feeling of first love in California sounds like a sad cassette tape, but PTA makes it into a competition where they try to outwit one another to become the more ‘cool’ person in their books. It is a sexy, savvy back-and-forth where jealousy, power, and cluelessness are all abounded as L.A. lights up with movie stars, assholes, and perverts that often cross their paths.
Similar to Best Films of 2021 – 7 Movies to Watch if you Like Licorice Pizza (2021)
7. Drive My Car
Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s Oscar winner is a quiet, gentle, and meditative look at the guilt we carry with us. Following the life of a theater director trying to put up a multilingual play based on Chekov’s Uncle Vanya after having lost his wife recently, the film captures two characters in flux and how they uncover truths about themselves and each other.
Shot mainly inside a beautiful red Saab that belongs to its protagonist, Hamaguchi uses snippets out of Murakami’s Men Without Women to make a masterful ode to the parallels we often have with art. Using Uncle Vanya as a sketch board, the director painstakingly and vividly paints the grief and pain that humans hide deep within their hearts.
Similar to Best Movies of 2021 – Drive My Car Movie Explained: Ending & Themes Analyzed
6. The Lost Daughter
The Lost Daughter begins with deception and then makes us follow Leda (Olivia Colman) on a seaside vacation. The middle-aged woman is out for a much-need time away from her busy life, but her vacation, which was supposed to be a relaxing time, turns out to be a dark, whirling decline into her past when her beach-side routine turns from pleasure to secrete obsession over a young mother and her child.
Paced like a serpent’s sudden embrace, Maggie Gyllenhall’s feature-length debut is a layered and complex look at motherhood and the perennial idea of freedom. Olivia Colman gives an equally layered and devastating performance as Leda, supported ably by Jessie Buckley and Dakota Johnson, who are both exceptional. Basically, The Lost Daughter is a film that provides the viewer a kind of experience that they have always wanted to see in a film but never got to see because they are often just swiped under the floor as ‘okay.’
Related to the Best Movies of 2021 – 6 Films to Watch if you like The Lost Daughter on Netflix
5. C’mon C’mon
How often do we listen to kids and the many opinions they have about everything around us? Maybe never! In Mike Mills’ C’mon C’mon, the director follows Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) and his young nephew (Woody Norman) and the relationship between the two forms where Johnny’s sister has to leave his son with him.
At once, a coming-of-age story and a profoundly moving portrait of lost souls, C’mon C’mon is relatable, funny, charming, and a constant reminder to feel all our feelings in the way they come to us. It is only a bonus that it tells us that it is as essential to talk as it is to listen.
4. The Souvenir: Part II
Joanna Hogg’s continuation of her semi-autobiographical work brings us closer to Julie. A girl who is slowly shaping into a woman while she juggles the intensity of understanding the trauma that the sudden departure of a once-loved being leaves you with.
Consequently, Hogg is channeling an insane amount of meta-fiction into this narrative that might fall apart at any moment and/or come off as supremely pretentious. And yet, its predictability all shapes Julie’s character into a complex and understated study of the fragile mind and a testament to ‘resisting the urge of making it obvious.’
The Souvenir: Part II thus becomes a masterful investigation of art’s ability to heal and make us understand ourselves a little better.
3. The Power of the Dog
Benedict Cumberbatch rips into the very heart of Jane Campion‘s glorious return to filmmaking with The Power of the Dog. It is not just one of the best Netflix products to date but a serious contender for one of the best films made in the past decade. Every single person, both in front and behind the camera, delivers. From Johnny Greenwood’s magnificent score to Ari Wegner’s haunting frames, The Power of the Dog barks its supremacy through and through.
On the offset, it is a dreadful and complex tale about loneliness. The constant urge to feel like one belongs while longing for a time and place that a person once knew keeps itching Phil Burbank’s bud. This is why the mean and nihilistic rancher can’t see through any of the bullshit the world throws at him. What Campion then does with him and numerous other people calls for a psychologically dense drama where survival matters.
Related to the Best Movies of 2021 – 10 Films to Watch if You Like The Power of the Dog on Netflix
2. Petite Maman
Petite Maman is a total u-turn from the path that Céline Sciamma traveled in Portrait of Lady on Fire. And yet, this story about our female counterparts feels like it could exist on the other side of the beach. Following the life of Eight-year-old Nelly, who has recently lost her grandmother, Sciamma takes a tender and warm look at trauma, pain, absence, and adolescence.
With magic realistic touches that equate the playing field as a common ground, the French director shows just how necessary it is to say goodbye. By making Petite Maman, she has gifted us with the power of imagination. A singular, sensory feeling where we can devise our own goodbyes every time we see this little film.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s lyrical beauty is beautifully translated into his English-language debut. Memoria, starring the indispensable Tilda Swinton, is just as meditative and transcendental as many of his Thai masterpieces from back home. This is clearly a film about human curiosity that defines any preconceived text.
Basically, digging at the human urge to find meaning, Memoria is a film about the collective and personal trauma we feel. More introspective in its representation of cultural amnesia than native Pedro Almodovar’s great but scattershot “Parallel Mothers,” Memoria’s most outstanding achievement is a Thai director talking about Spanish national atrocities with a British actor at its center. Thereby showing how political consequences on people feel surprisingly opaque for everyone in the world.