The Best Movies of 2021, Ranked

Here's our list of every movie you absolutely need to see this year.

Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst in "The Power of the Dog." | Netflix
Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst in "The Power of the Dog." | Netflix

At the beginning of last year, it was impossible to anticipate just how much the moviegoing experience would change over the following months. As theaters across the globe closed, many films shifted to a streaming-only release strategy, and blockbusters got punted to a year or two later in the wake of the pandemic. This year has been similar in at least one significant way: It's strange. With movies getting hybrid releases and major studios attempting to make a return to "normal," it's been hard to predict exactly what would come out and when, even as theaters reopen. Hopefully, that makes a list like this more useful than ever.

We've updated these rankings throughout the year as new movies were released, but now that 2021 is coming to a close, the list is complete. Here are the 40 best movies.

For more movies to watch, check out our rankings of Best Horror Movies of 2021, Best Action Movies of 2021, and our favorite movies from 2020.

40. F9

Release date: June 25
Cast: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges
Director: Justin Lin (Fast and Furious 6)
Why it’s great: After the bloated Fate of the Furious, which found the Fast franchise careening off the icy cliff of self-parody and into the freezing waters of self-indulgence, F9 serves as a necessary course correction courtesy of filmmaker Justin Lin, who helmed the best entry in the series with Fast Five and saved it from direct-to-DVD purgatory with Tokyo Drift. He's clearly doing some necessary tune-up work here, stripping the series for parts (say goodbye to The Rock!) and futzing with the engine (say hello to some surprisingly compelling flashbacks to Dom's teenage years!). If you find these proudly melodramatic, unrepentantly goofy movies tedious, F9 will not be the one to win you over. The plot is mostly nonsense; John Cena is not a particularly compelling villain; the "comedy" bits stop the movie in its tracks. But, with Lin throwing everything he's got at the screen, F9 delivers the goods when it comes to the huge set-pieces, particularly any time a magnet is involved, and Diesel, rumbling with each line reading, remains a fascinating screen presence in these films, which still feel personal to him despite their ridiculous scale and unapologetic cheesiness. —Dan Jackson
Where to watch: Rent on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube (Watch the trailer)

Release date: June 18
Director: Edgar Wright (Baby Driver)
Why it's great: I knew practically nothing about the band Sparks, made up of the brothers Russ and Ron Mael, going into Edgar Wright's loving and long documentary, but I emerged a fan, which is some of the highest praise I can give a film like this one. Wright sets out to explain the underground phenomenon behind Sparks, which has weaved in and out of the public eye since the early 1970s. The director methodically goes through the Maels' discography, highlighting their pop experiments and deeply amusing and bizarre lyrics. It's meticulous and also enormously funny, featuring insight from the Maels themselves as well as devoted fans like Flea, Weird Al, and Mike Myers. (Wright has a great time with the chyrons identifying these talking heads.) There are animated recreations, recreations acted out by the elder Maels, and tons of archival footage. Mostly, you leave feeling a towering affection for these weirdos and their weirdo music, which is, I assume, exactly what Wright intended. —Esther Zuckerman
Where to watch it: Rent on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube (Watch the trailer)

Warner Bros

Release date: June 10
Director: Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians)
Cast: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins. Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera
Why it's great: In a year that promised a lot of movie musicals coming to the screen, In the Heights kicked things off in spectacular fashion. Jon M. Chu directed an ecstatic adaptation of the musical that made Lin-Manuel Miranda famous before Hamilton, the story of Usnavi (Anthony Ramos, in a star-making turn), a bodega owner in Washington Heights with dreams of going back to the Dominican Republic, and his community. Too many modern movie musicals are plagued by inertia; that's not the case with In the Heights. When the characters open their mouths to sing, the vibrancy pops off the screen. Instead of using green screens or CGI wizardry to make Miranda's metaphors literal, Chu decided to rely on the magic of New York City streets. Since its release, there have been important conversations had about the lack of representation of the Afro-Latino community on screen, but, while flawed in its portrait, In the Heights still feels like a breakthrough moment. —EZ
Where to watch it: Rent on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube (Watch the trailer)

37. Nobody

Release date: March 26
Director: Ilya Naishuller (Hardcore Henry)
Cast: Bob Odenkirk, Connie Nielsen, RZA, Aleksei Serebryakov
Why it's great: This is a movie where Bob Odenkirk beats up a bunch of goons on a public bus and later dismantles a whole army of gangsters in a factory. Whether you're a fan of Odenkirk from Better Call Saul or Mr. Show, the prospect of seeing the mild-mannered 58-year-old go full John Wick in a movie written by John Wick writer Derek Kolstad is intriguing. Luckily, Nobody mostly delivers on the potential of its premise, stringing together brutal, bone-breaking fight scenes with a Bourne meets Death Wish meets Taken plot that moves from set piece to set piece. He may not move with the balletic grace of Keanu Reeves or growl with the Biblical anger of Liam Neeson, but Odenkirk brings a psychological intensity and a winning wryness to a part that a more conventional action hero might have simply slept-walk through. With John Wick: Chapter 4 now pushed to 2022, Nobody might be the most satisfying jolt of slick, mean mayhem you get from a major studio project this year. —DJ
Where to watch it: Rent on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube (Watch the trailer)

36. Night of the Kings

Release date: February 26
Director: Philippe Lacôte (Run)
Cast: Bakary Koné, Issaka Sawadogo, Steve Tientcheu
Why it's great: This film from Philippe Lacôte layers fables on top of fables to document a night inside a notorious prison in Côte d'Ivoire. The place known as MACA in Abidjan is very much real and the site of frequent violence, but there's a mystical quality that hangs over Night of the Kings' tale of warring factions and political upheaval. In Lacôte's telling, the correctional facility is lorded over by Blackbeard, the reigning "dangoro," whose power is being threatened by a group of his lackeys as he grows ill. As a last grasp at control, he anoints a new arrival the "Roman" and orders him to tell a story upon the appearance of the red moon. The terrified young man's life is at stake as he weaves the narrative of Zama King, the saga getting more fantastical as he continues. As Roman speaks, his rapt audience uses dance and song to act out Zama's trials. It's a hypnotic combination of magical realism, choreography, and true life terrors. —EZ
Where to watch it:Hulu (Watch the trailer)

35. No Sudden Move

Release date: July 1
Director: Steven Soderbergh (Out of Sight)
Cast: Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, David Harbour, Jon Hamm
Why it's great: Steven Soderbergh's crime drama dropped directly onto HBO Max, but it's up there with some of his best work. It's a period piece about mobsters in 1950s Detroit pitched at a minor key that reveals facets of its twisty storyline as it goes along. Don Cheadle plays a low-level gangster assigned to what seems like an easy job. He's paired up with Benicio Del Toro, and their fractured alliance gets more complicated as they get deeper into the heart of the conspiracy they've been thrust into, which goes up higher on the food chain than anyone might expect. Though the plot can get downright overheated at times, particularly as characters inevitably start to double- and triple-cross one another in the climax, Soderbergh keeps the engine humming by making inventive visual choices throughout and allowing his performers, particularly his two excellent leads, to take the wheel when necessary. —EZ
Where to watch it:HBO Max (Watch the trailer)

Release date: October 27 in theaters; November 10 on Netflix
Director: Rebecca Hall
Cast: Ruth Negga, Tessa Thompson, André Holland, Bill Camp
Why it's worth seeing: There's a delicacy to actress Rebecca Hall's directorial debut,Passing, an adaptation of Nella Larsen's 1929 novel about two childhood friends who reunite in adulthood and find their lives in a state of contradiction. Irene (Tessa Thompson) is living in Harlem as part of the upper echelon of Black society with her husband and two children; Clare (Ruth Negga) has been passing as a white woman and is married to a racist man. A chance meeting brings them together after years apart and ignites mutual insecurities, especially when Clare begins to infiltrate the life with which Irene previously thought herself content. Filmed in black and white and featuring a stunning jazz score by Dev Hynes, Hall keeps the tension between her protagonists at a simmer, the roiling frustrations and desires lingering just beneath the surface. Both Thompson and Negga are extraordinary, playing their characters' internal emotions through glances and subtle shifts in their tone of voice. Hall's film has style in spades, but it's all in service of the tricky feelings underneath the pretty people and parties. —EZ
Where to watch it: Netflix (Watch the trailer)

33. Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

Release date: June 25
Director: Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson
Why it's great: The footage alone would be worth recommending The Roots' drummer Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson's directorial debut. These recordings of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, a weeks-long musical event that happened the same year as Woodstock, have been unavailable for public consumption until now, an example of a Black historical artifact being buried. The archival material is incredible, capturing unparalleled performances from Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, The Staples Singers, Mahalia Jackson, Sly and the Family Stone, and so many more acts. Thompson frequently lets the music speak for itself, but also uses it as a guide through the place and the period, showing how Black artists were responding and evolving during the era. Summer of Soul is thoroughly joyous and also enormously vital. —EZ
Where to watch it: Hulu (Watch the trailer)

32. Riders of Justice

Release date: May 14
Director: Anders Thomas Jensen (Men & Chicken)
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Andrea Heick Gadeberg, Lars Brygmann
Why it's great: The idea of Mads Mikkelsen, the menacing and captivating star of NBC's Hannibal and last year's Oscar-winner Another Round, getting his own Taken-like revenge vehicle is appealing enough. But Riders of Justice, a philosophically knotty and refreshingly contemplative Danish action thriller, is more than your average Neeson-esque revenge movie knock-off. Yes, Mikkelsen, sporting a gnarly beard and a shaved head, plays a stoic, violent man seeking to find the men responsible for killing his wife. There's plenty of suspense and twists and shoot-outs and even a deadly motorcycle gang, but director Anders Thomas Jensen, who also penned the script, finds room in this sprawling tale for bits of sharp comedy, most of it involving the team of stat-obsessed nerds who assist Mikkelsen's tough commando, and welcome detours into more metaphysical concerns surrounding ethics and randomness and chaos. As the plot digressions (and the bodies) pile up, Mikkelsen keeps the narrative humming with his unceasing intensity. —DJ
Where to watch: Rent on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube (Watch the trailer)

31. The World to Come

Release date: February 12
Director: Mona Fastvold (The Sleepwalker)
Cast: Katherine Waterston, Vanessa Kirby, Casey Affleck, Christopher Abbott
Why it's great: The quiet, calm narration of Katherine Waterston's Abigail carries the viewer through this period romance between two women in an isolated corner of New York during the 19th century. But for as meditative as her voice is, there's a turmoil that rages through Mona Fastvold's film like the storm that appears in the first act. At times, Daniel Blumberg's magnificent score sounds like screams, and even in moments of peace there's creeping anxiety. Abigail has resigned herself to a life of discontentment with her husband Dyer (Affleck) when their new neighbors Finney (Abbott) and Tallie (Kirby) arrive. Abigail and Tallie become fast friends. Tallie is worldly and self-assured, even as she steals away from her pompous spouse who has a violent streak. Their long afternoons talking turn into physical expressions of love, but Fastvold is less interested in how that may have been taboo in the era than in how the threat of isolation is always just around the corner for these women. —EZ
Where to watch it:Hulu; rent on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube (Watch the trailer)

Sony Pictures Classics

30. Parallel Mothers

Release date: December 24
Director: Pedro Almodóvar (All About My Mother)
Cast: Penélope Cruz, Milena Smit, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón
Why it's worth seeing: After the deeply personal Pain and Glory, Pedro Almodóvar is back in melodrama mode with Parallel Mothers. It's a tricky movie, with a fantastic Penélope Cruz performance at its center, that meshes melodrama with a corner of Spanish political history. Cruz plays Janis, a fashion photographer who begins an affair with a forensic anthropologist Arturo (Israel Elejalde). She also recruits Arturo for a project close to her heart: exhuming a mass grave of those who were executed during the Spanish Civil War, which she believes contains the remains of her great-grandfather. Janis becomes pregnant and decides to have the baby as a single mother. In the hospital she meets Ana (Milena Smit), a teen also giving birth, and they develop an instant rapport, which will come into play later when they meet again, after Janis suspects their children were accidentally swapped at birth. It's a soap opera plotline that Almodóvar brings new nuance to when he wraps it up a framework of generational trauma. —EZ
Where to watch it: In theaters (Watch the trailer)

Release date: March 5
Directors: Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw (The Last Race)
Why it's great: One of the loveliest films of the year, The Truffle Hunters is a documentary about the truffle trade in Northern Italy. Its stars? A bunch of older Italian men and their beloved dogs, who they treat like children. Directors Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw offer gorgeously shot windows into the serious business of scouring the forests for these delicacies. It's not entirely sweet pups and their devoted owners, though. Without any extra context, Dweck and Kershaw introduce us to the traders who make the industry a vicious one with a lot of money on the line. Still, the indisputable star is Birba, a sweet pooch of unidentifiable breed whose elderly person feeds from his own dinner table and worries about leaving behind once he passes. —EZ
Where to watch it: Rent on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube (Watch the trailer)

Release date: February 5
Director: Jo Sung-Hee (Phantom Detective)
Cast: Song Joong-Ki, Kim Tae-Ri, Jin Seon-Kyu, Yoo Hae-Jin
Why it's great: Right from its first, electrifying sequence involving a bunch of bounty hunting spaceships chasing after a careering piece of garbage, Space Sweepers spins a far-future of multicultural, multilingual human life in space that's as exhilarating as it is crushingly dystopian. Tae-Ho is a pilot aboard the freighter Victory, along with Captain Jang, engineer Tiger Park, and loudmouthed robot Bubs, all of them part of an outer-space trash-collecting bounty-hunter guild known as the Space Sweepers, who capture space junk and sell it for parts. After a particularly harrowing chase, the crew finds a little girl hiding in a derelict spaceship, who just happens to be a nanobot-filled android that a group of space terrorists have fitted with a hydrogen bomb. At first the Victory crew plans to sell the "little girl" back to the terrorist group who lost her, before they realize that she's much more special than she seems. —Emma Stefansky
Where to watch it: Netflix (Watch the trailer)

Release date: April 23
Director: Mike Rianda
Cast: Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Olivia Colman
Why it's great: If Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse established Sony Pictures Animation as one of the most exciting studios making animated movies right now, The Mitchells vs. the Machines, on Netflix, solidified that reputation. Also from producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the family comedy about a group of weirdos besieged by an AI apocalypse is very funny and extremely heartfelt, featuring a nuanced father-daughter relationship that feels akin to something out of Lady Bird. Directed and written by Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe, both veterans of the early 2010s Disney Channel and XD series Gravity Falls, The Mitchells vs. the Machines builds to a climax that's as exhilarating as it is touching, successfully blending an all-out, wonderfully goofy action sequence with the kind of resonance it needs to move its audience. —EZ
Where to watch it:Netflix (Watch the trailer)

Release date: September 10
Director: James Wan (Aquaman)
Cast: Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young, Michole Briana White
Why it's great: James Wan's horror-thriller about a woman who realizes her dreams of a spooky figure violently murdering people are actually happening is by turns effectively creepy, utterly baffling, and absolutely hilarious, with an electrifying third act that plays as its own superhero origin story. The only way to accurately describe this movie's goofy, heightened aesthetic is that it's like a fake movie inside another, much more normal movie, except the fake movie turns out to be the actual movie. From the minute an asylum nurse intones, "IT'S TIME TO CUT OUT THE CANCER" you know you'd better buckle up for whatever madness this will turn out to be. —ES
Where to watch it:HBO Max (Watch the trailer)

Release date: October 22
Director: Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Cast: Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet
Why it's great: A bicycle tour of a whimsically named city. A profile of an imprisoned artist on the cusp of a new movement. A student protest with all the whirlwind emotion of a Shakespeare tragedy. A dinner party unexpectedly bearing witness to a kidnapping. One thing ties all of these vignettes together: The French Dispatch, a magazine that connects the French expat town of Ennui-sur-Blase with Liberty, Kansas, managed by a beloved editor and populated by a series of eccentric journalists. Wes Anderson’s newest film has all of his arch wit and fussily decorated settings, and perhaps his most eclectic cast of characters yet, in a delightful tour through his love of the New Yorker, of magazines in general, and of writers who consider blazers over turtlenecks their daily uniform. —ES
Where to watch it: In theaters (Watch the trailer)

24. Bergman Island

Release date: October 15
Director: Mia Hansen-Løve (Eden)
Cast: Vicky Krieps, Tim Roth, Mia Wasikowska, Anders Danielsen Lie
Why it's great: The legendary Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman hangs like a shadow over the latest from Mia Hansen-Løve's film which asks questions about inspiration in the story of a married filmmaker couple on a retreat. Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth play Chris and Tony, both directors and screenwriters themselves, who take a trip to Fårö, the spot where Bergman lived and made some of his most famous films. They are sleeping in the bed where parts ofScenes from a Marriage was filmed, if there weren't enough dread hanging over their coupling. But Bergman Island is not exactly about a marriage falling apart. Rather, it's about what we ask from art and artists and how we choose to utilize that in our own work. While Tony is diligently working on a screenplay, Chris is searching for what her next project will be, looking to establish herself independently of her influences, almost rejecting the darkness that has come to define Bergman's work. About midway through the narrative, a film within a film—Chris' idea—starts to take over, starring Mia Wasikowska as another woman who comes to this gorgeous and strange locale searching. —EZ
Where to watch it: In theaters (Watch the trailer)

Release date: October 15
Director: Todd Haynes (Carol)
Why it's great: As a showcase for the music of a great band, Todd Haynes' The Velvet Underground does not disappoint: Loud and visceral, the film reanimates songs like "All Tomorrow's Parties," "Venus in Furs," or "Heroin" that might feel like canonical relics of the '60s when deployed by less deft hands. If you're a fan, it will send you back to the original albums with new zeal. If the group is only something you know from banana t-shirts and that classic quote about how everyone who bought their first record formed a band, it will likely make you a convert. It feels lame to describe the movie in such blunt terms, but there might not be a better way to put it: The Velvet Underground is a very cool movie, one that understands matters of taste and style on an almost instinctual level. ––DJ
Where to watch it: Apple TV+ (Watch the trailer)

Release date: March 26
Director: Kitao Sakurai (The Eric Andre Show)
Cast: Eric Andre, Lil Rel Howery, Tiffany Haddish
Why it's great: There are hidden camera pranks meant to embarrass or provoke the prankee to the point that they're practically forced to react out of an animalistic type of anger, and then there are the others that are simply there to capture everyday human behavior in the face of absolute absurdity. Bad Trip, the logical extension of the unpredictable gags featured on The Eric Andre Show, is the latter, even in its most egregiously ridiculous stunts. With the narrative backbone of Chris Carey (Eric Andre) and Bud Malone (Lil Rel Howery) road tripping from Florida to New York to pursue Chris's unrequited love (Michaela Conlin) in Bud's sister Trina's (Tiffany Haddish) hot pink car, the cast ingeniously use the film's interpersonal conflicts to engage the people they encounter along the way, soliciting advice, asking for help, and bonding with generally receptive locals from the Deep South up to New Jersey. The result is a hilarious and lighthearted take on the genre from Jackass producer Jeff Tremaine, The Eric Andre Show's director Kitao Sakurai, some very funny comedians, and the demented meme king of goofing around. —Leanne Butkovic
Where to watch it: Netflix (Watch the trailer)

Release date: April 3
Director: Emma Seligman
Cast: Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon, Polly Draper, Fred Melamed
Why it's great: Emma Seligman's comedy about shiva gone very wrong often plays more like a horror film, the chattering of bubbes turning downright maniacal as the score's strings intensify. We first meet Danielle (comedian Rachel Sennott) in the middle of sex with Max (Danny Deferrari), her sugar daddy, who shows a lecherous interest in her budding law career. Most of the movie, however, takes place at the post-funeral memorial for a distant family acquaintance Danielle is roped into attending with her parents (Polly Draper and Fred Melamed). It quickly becomes obvious that our protagonist is not, in actuality, pursuing a law career. She's an aimless college student who has made up her own major. If the agony of being barraged with countless questions about her future weren't bad enough, her high school ex (Molly Gordon) is a guest, as is—surprise!—Max. Jewish geography is indeed as much a curse as it is a blessing. Seligman's camera stays focused on Danielle as her anxiety skyrockets and she makes a series of increasingly rash decisions. At less than 90 minutes, Shiva Baby is both economical and a bit slight, but Seligman makes fascinating choices at every turn. —EZ
Where to watch it: Hulu or HBO Max (Watch the trailer)


20. Titane

Release date: October 1
Director: Julia Ducournau (Raw)
Cast: Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon
Why it's great: Let's just say this: Julia Ducournau's Palme d'Or winning film starts with a female serial killer having sex with a car that impregnates her. It gets even wilder from there, and also strangely sweet. Basically, it's the kind of movie you have to see to believe. Ducournau's debut feature was the gruesome cannibal tale Raw, and she once again does not hold back in this fable about Alexia (Rousselle), a woman with a metal plate in her head from a automotive accident as a child who has a taste for murder and an attraction to cars. With the police on her tail, she disguises herself as a long missing boy and is quasi-adopted by the boy's father (Lindon), who will do anything to fill the hole in his heart, even believing that this silent, pregnant woman excreting oil is his son. Titane is visceral and often disgusting, but ultimately a story about familial devotion and the kind of love parents and children seek from one another. —EZ
Where to watch it: Rent on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, or YouTube (Watch the trailer

Release date: October 15
Director: Ridley Scott (Gladiator)
Cast: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck
Why it's great:The Last Duel—Ridley Scott's medieval epic co-written by Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Nicole Holofcener—is a film, above all else, about the foolishness of men. It's a strange, long horror comedy detailing how women in the 14th century were at the mercy of dudes who were vain, petty, and cruel, only concerned with their own status even when someone's life is at stake. For a two-and-half-hour movie centered around a rape and a violent battle, it's awfully funny, but that humor only serves its point: It makes the men who think they are the heroes of this tale seem puny and vile, just as they are. Told in three chapters, each from a differing perspective, The Last Duel describes the incidents that led to a fight to the death between Jean de Carrouges (Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), the man who assaulted his wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer) The structure only serves to fuel Scott's ultimate point not about the subjectivity of human experience, but the brutality of the circumstances. Anchored by great performance all around, it's Affleck who steals the show as a louche, drunken count. —EZ
Where to watch it: In theaters (Watch the trailer)

Release date: September 10
Director: Paul Schrader (First Reformed)
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, Willem Dafoe
Why it's great: At one point in Paul Schrader's latest severe character study, the camera reveals a tattoo on the back of Oscar Isaac's character's back that reads, "I trust my life to providence, I trust my soul to grace." In the shot, William Tell, Isaac's troubled gambling protagonist, is sipping whiskey and writing at a desk, a pose familiar to fans of Schrader's work, and the words come from a song written for Light Sleeper, Schrader's mist-soaked 1992 drama about insomnia and addiction. These self-referential touches are hardly essential to enjoying the film, which tracks Tell as he plays in gambling tournaments for a kind-hearted manager (Tiffany Haddish) and considers a revenge plot against a private security contractor (Willem Dafoe) pitched to him by a disturbed young man (Tye Sheridan). The movie works as a shrewd thriller, a smoldering romance, and an often angry meditation on guilt. But it works best as yet another example of Schrader's unwavering faith in his own divine gifts as a filmmaker. ––DJ
Where to watch it: Rent on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube (Watch the trailer)

Release date: October 29
Director: Joanna Hogg (Unrelated)
Cast: Honor Swinton-Byrne, Tilda Swinton, Charlie Heaton, Joe Alwyn
Why it's worth seeing: The Souvenir Part II will likely go down in history as one of the best and most unlikely sequels ever to grace the screen, perhaps competing with Before Sunset for that title. Joanna Hogg follows up her 2019 piece of autofiction, the story of a young filmmaker Julie (Honor Swinton-Byrne), who falls for a mysterious older man Anthony (Tom Burke), and battles her own naiveté as their romance grows more and more troubled. Part II is a direct continuation of Julie's story as she deals with the aftermath of Anthony's death and approaches her film school graduation. Hogg's screenplay is more straightforward this time, but no less incisive, a portrait of a young woman finding her identity as an artist and trying to understand her own ignorance. —EZ
Where to watch it: In theaters (Watch the trailer)

Release date: July 30
Director: David Lowery (A Ghost Story)
Cast: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury
Why it's great: The Green Knight isn't an action fantasy, or even a fantasy in the way we've become accustomed to it: There are no dragons (though there is a whale fossil), no sparkly magic spells (though there is at least one sinister incantation and a companionable fox), no athletic sex scenes (though the whole movie is very sexy). Dev Patel plays soon-to-be-knight Gawain, who, in chopping off the head of a mysterious Green Knight during a game of chivalry, dooms himself to death when his foe challenges to return to him in a year so he can return the blow in kind—a blow that, as he is not made of magical plants, Gawain is unlikely to survive. What follows is a gorgeous, surreal fable set in the medieval world of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, sending Gawain on a quest full of ghosts, giants, and magic that turns all the trappings of its source material on its head. —ES
Where to watch it: Rent on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, or YouTube (Watch the trailer)

Warner Bros.

15. Dune

Release date: October 22
Director: Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049)
Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya
Why it's great: The noble House Atreides has been gifted control and residency of the planet Arrakis, also known as Dune, the home of spice, the most precious substance in the universe. Whoever controls spice production on Arrakis will become very rich indeed. But the Atreides family and their vassals need to tread lightly: The gift of Arrakis is definitely a test, and likely a trap, overseen by the Atreides' powerful enemies, the brutish House Harkonnen. Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and his family, Bene Gesserit concubine Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and their fey son Paul (Timothée Chalamet), arrive on the planet ready to ally themselves with the blue-eyed Fremen, the native human population who have developed ways of surviving in the wasteland. The first part of Denis Villeneuve's adaptation of Frank Herbert's groundbreaking novel is visually stunning and endlessly exciting, the sort of thing fans have been waiting decades to see. —ES
Where to watch it: Rent on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, or YouTube (Watch the trailer

14. Test Pattern

Release date: February 12
Director: Shatara Michelle Ford
Cast: Brittany S. Hall, Will Brill, Gail Bean
Why it's great: The love story that dominates the first 15 minutes of Shatara Michelle Ford's tight and stunning feature-length directorial debut is seductive. Renesha (Brittany S. Hall) meets Evan (Will Brill) at a bar. When they run into one another at a grocery store sometime later, a romance starts to unfold. But Test Pattern is not about love. It's about bodily autonomy and what happens when a Black woman's is ripped from her, first by a predator and then by someone she loves. One night, well into her and Evan's relationship, Renesha goes out with a friend. They are targeted by two men and encouraged to drink and take weed gummies. Renesha ends up in a strange bed with no idea how she got there. In the aftermath, Evan drivers her to get a rape kit, a gesture that slowly becomes more and more oppressive as they realize how difficult it is to obtain one in Texas. Evan's insistence starts out with concern for Renesha's well-being, but turns into a violation—a white man having little regard for what his Black girlfriend is actually experiencing. Ford's use of music to shape tension is astounding, as is the way she films Renesha's trauma. Test Pattern is a tense, upsetting film, that is nonetheless utterly striking. —EZ
Where to watch it: Rent on Kino Now, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, or YouTube (Watch the trailer)

Release date: November 5
Director: Pablo Larraín (Jackie)
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Sally Hawkins, Sean Harris, Timothy Spall
Why it's worth seeing: More than anything, Pablo Larraín's portrait of Princess Diana, described as a "fable" in an opening title card, is a ghost story. If you've seen Larraín's interpretation of Jackie Kennedy, Jackie, you don't expect a traditional biopic from the Chilean director, and Spencer follows in that mode. Set entirely in the three-day period between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day on the royals' Sandringham estate, the film is an impressionistic, melancholy, campy, and occasionally wry examination of Diana in spiral, played with precision but also deep sensitivity by Kristen Stewart. But unlike previous interpretations of this period—including The CrownSpencer is less concerned with what actually happened than the toll it was taking on Diana's spirit. It's a haunted and haunting piece of work as Stewart wrestles with ghosts both figurative and literal, ones that are connected to her personal past and her nation's. Yes, it's gorgeous. Yes, the costumes are sumptuous. But Spencer is also a knowing, special, sometimes even quirky examination of iconography we think we know well. —EZ
Where to watch it: Rent on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, or YouTube (Watch the trailer)

Release date: January 29, 2021
Director: Rose Glass
Cast: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Knight, Lily Frazer
Why it's great: Haunted by a horrific incident in her past, Maud, a young woman who works as a palliative care nurse for the elderly and infirm, has converted to Roman Catholicism and believes that she hears the voice of God coursing through her whenever she's done something she feels He's pleased with. Her new patient, Amanda, a former dancer suffering from stage four lymphoma, is more concerned with dolling herself up for fancy evenings with friends than with saving her soul while she still has time—at least in Maud's eyes. Her "visions" of God, often in the form of a cockroach, lead her to believe that saving her new charge's lost soul is her life's mission—at any cost. Rose Glass's sneakily funny and distressingly spooky directorial debut will charm and terrify you in equal measure. It's a haunting religious experience. —ES
Where to watch it: Hulu or Amazon Prime (Watch the trailer)

11. The Lost Daughter

Release date: December 17 in theaters; December 31 on Netflix
Director: Maggie Gyllenhaal
Cast: Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley, Ed Harris
Why it's worth seeing: Maggie Gyllenhaal's directorial debut, based on a novel by Elena Ferrante, is a story about motherhood that will crawl under your skin and stay there. It centers on Leda (Olivia Colman), a professor on a solo Greek vacation. From her perch on a beach chair she watches as a loud, aggressive family invades the beach, but her gaze centers on a quiet, beautiful mother named Nina (Dakota Johnson) and her crying child. Through watching this woman struggle with the toddler, Leda is flooded with memories of her own two daughters. As a young mother, Leda (played in flashbacks by the wonderful Jessie Buckley) was frustrated and frequently angry at her kids. She wasn't an abusive parent, but she was one that didn't fit naturally into the maternal stereotypes forced upon women. In the present, Leda is drawn closer and closer to Nina and her own doubts about her assigned role. It's a tricky piece that Gyllenhaal executes almost flawlessly, creating a vivid universe of women and their internal strife. —EZ
Where to watch it: Netflix (Watch the trailer)


Release date: February 12, 2021
Director: Josh Greenbaum (New Girl)
Cast: Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo, Jamie Dornan, Damon Wayans Jr.
Why it's great: Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar took us by surprise like a benevolent water spirit, a reference you'll get if you watch this truly zany comedy from the minds of Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, who also star as the titular Barb and Star, best friends who decide to leave their little Nebraska town for a vacation in the fictional Floridian paradise of Vista Del Mar. What they don't know is that a pale villain with a severe bob (also played by Wiig) is targeting that very spot because of a personal grievance. Barb & Star has multiple musical numbers, some wild cameos, and an infectiously goofy spirit largely thanks to the brilliant work of the pair of women at its center. It's hard to describe the specific lunacy of this film, so just go watch and be swept away by the good vibes. —EZ
Where to watch it:Hulu (Watch the trailer)

9. Drive My Car

Release date: November 24
Director: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (Asako I & II)
Cast: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Tôko Miura, Masaki Okada, Reika Kirishima
Why it's worth seeing: The opening credits come 46 minutes into Ryûsuke Hamaguchi's 3-hour film about people grappling with their grief as they rehearse a production of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. This prologue introduces the viewer to Yûsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), a famed theater actor and director, and his wife, Oto, a screenwriter. Their relationship is bound by sex and storytelling: After they have intercourse, she weaves a tale. Without spoiling too much of what takes place: Their relationship is cut short, and the rest of the film tracks Mr. Kafuku as he ventures to Hiroshima to stage a multilingual version of the Russian classic. There, he is instructed that he must have a driver, which is how Misaki Watari (Tôko Miura), a stoic young woman, enters his life. What follows is a lengthy exploration of loss and love that uses Chekhov—as well as the Haruki Murakami story on which this project is based—as a reference point, but enters its own beguiling territory. —EZ
Where to watch it: In theaters (Watch the trailer)

Release date: December 10
Director: Steven Spielberg (Schindler's List)
Cast: Rachel Zegler, Ansel Elgort, Ariana DeBose, Rita Moreno
Why it's worth seeing: You really shouldn't underestimate Steven Spielberg. The director's decision to remake West Side Story, a musical that had already been turned into a 1961 film, was met with skepticism. But he proved doubters wrong with a stunning adaptation that rethinks the classic for a new era without losing its undying appeal. Much of this West Side Story's success can be attributed to the new screenplay written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and frequent Spielberg collaborator Tony Kushner that deepens and contextualizes the story. It all comes together with excellent performances from Rachel Zegler as María, Ariana DeBose as Anita, Mike Faist and Riff, and, most touchingly, veteran Rita Moreno as a new character, Valentina. Spielberg and his trusted cinematographer, Janusz Kamiński, capture the dancing and heartbreak with vibrancy while highlighting the violence and anger in the narrative. —EZ
Where to watch it: In theaters (Watch the trailer)

Release date: August 6
Director: Leos Carax (Holy Motors)
Cast: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg, Devyn McDowell
Why it's great: Annette is certainly one of the strangest movies you'll see all year. It's a rock musical composed by the band Sparks and directed by Leos Carax about an opera star (Marion Cotillard) who falls in love with and marries a stand-up comedian (Adam Driver). Driver's character is named Henry McHenry, and that's just the start of where things get weird. Eventually this couple has a baby, the eponymous Annette, played by an uncanny puppet. But lest you think Annette is just in it for the shock value, it's also a brilliant dissection of tropes gleaned from Hollywood, the opera, and tabloids. It takes formulas that are integral to storytelling and filters them through a funhouse mirror. —EZ
Where to watch it: Amazon Prime (Watch the trailer)

Release date: December 10
Director: Sean Baker (The Florida Project)
Cast: Simon Rex, Bree Elrod, Suzanna Son
Why it's worth seeing: Director Sean Baker follows up The Florida Project with another—almost more relentlessly uncomfortable—look at an unglamorous, unvarnished corner of America. Red Rocket stars Simon Rex (who you might know as a one-time MTV VJ) as Mikey Saber, a porn star who returns to his hometown of Texas City on the Gulf Coast in the summer of 2016. He's bruised and beaten and has some crazy story about MS-13, and asks his estranged wife, also a former porn star (Bree Elrod), if he can crash with her and her mother. While in town he starts dealing weed and pursuing a not-quite-18-year-old who goes by Strawberry (Suzanna Son) and works the register at a local donut shop. Mikey sees the savvy Strawberry as his ticket back into the porn industry. If that sounds gross, well, that's also the point. Mikey has a certain motor-mouthed charm, but he is also a vicious narcissist who cares about little but his own success. It's an entrancing performance by Rex, and another triumph for Baker, who is never afraid to turn away. —EZ
Where to watch it: In theaters (Watch the trailer)

Release date: November 26
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread)
Cast: Cooper Hoffman, Alana Haim, Bradley Cooper, Sean Penn
Why it's worth seeing: Paul Thomas Anderson is known for conjuring revelatory performances from well-known actors, but this time he turned his eye toward novices: Cooper Hoffman (son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, a frequent Anderson collaborator) and Alana Haim (best known as the youngest member of the sister trio Haim). Together, Hoffman and Haim are radiant, giving star-making turns as two scrappy souls ambling through California's San Fernando Valley amid the chaos of 1973. He plays a precocious 15-year-old actor turned entrepreneur; she plays the witty 20-something who discovers an odd affinity for his romantic schemes. Along the way, Licorice Pizza takes a number of shaggy detours, including one that finds our protagonists at the home of larger-than-life Hollywood hairdresser Jon Peters, portrayed by Bradley Cooper at his most feral. This is Anderson's sweetest movie to date, a meandering romp about youthful dreams that's electrifying in its originality. —Matthew Jacobs
Where to watch it: In theaters (Watch the trailer)


4. Zola

Release date: June 30
Director: Janicza Bravo (Lemon)
Cast: Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Nicholas Braun, Colman Domingo
Why it's great: Inspired by a viral twitter thread that charted an eventful journey from Detroit to Tampa Bay, Zola is as witty, incisive, and exhilarating as its source material. From the opening voiceover, which introduces the movie's central relationship and draws directly from the thread itself, Zola (Taylour Paige) has you hooked. She meets Stefani (Riley Keough) at the cheesy restaurant she works at and the two share a connection, immediately texting back and forth about a trip Stefani wants to make to Florida with the purpose of making cash stripping. Quickly, the two hit the road with a gruff, nameless mystery man (Colman Domingo) and Stefani's earnest, lanky goofball boyfriend Derrek (Succession's Nicholas Braun). Unsurprisingly, chaos ensues. To tell a very online story set in 2015, director Janicza Bravo and her co-writer Jeremy O. Harris skillfully incorporate the formal elements of technology—the pinging sound of a notification, the spacey glow of a screensaver, and the know-it-all tone of a Reddit thread—but the movie doesn't have a cluttered look. The visual choices never get too fussy. Instead, Bravo uses striking, carefully composed images to locate comedy in the surreal details and the uncomfortable confrontations. As intense as it gets, you're happy to be trapped in the car for the ride. —DJ
Where to watch it: Rent on AmazoniTunesVudu, and YouTube (Watch the trailer)

3. The Worst Person in the World

Release date: Limited release November 17, 2021; wide release February 4, 2022
Director: Joachim Trier (Oslo, August 31st)
Cast: Renate Reinsve, Anders Danielsen Lie, Herbert Nordrum
Why it's worth seeing: Director Joachim Trier's The Worst Person in the World opens by announcing that it's a story told in 12 chapters with a prologue and an epilogue. That might initially sound intimidating, but this warm and inviting film about a young woman basically just trying to figure shit out is anything but. The revelatory Renate Reinsve plays Julie, who we learn in that opening section was a type-A student wanting to be a doctor until she got distracted and tried psychology, and then tried photography and then tried writing. She meets Aksel, an older comic book artist and they fall in love and move in together. Trier finds plenty to mine in Julie's uncertainty—about her future and her desire for children—and Reinsve is sensational playing all of her nerves and sensuality. It's a very funny film with jokes about farts and buttholes, but also an astoundingly creative one that will take your breath away as it moves through its structured narrative. —EZ
Where to watch it: In theaters (Watch the trailer)

2. Pig

Release date: July 16
Director: Michael Sarnoski
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, Adam Arkin, Nina Belforte
Why it's great: In a small cabin, somewhere in the austere wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, lives a shaggy-haired monosyllabic man (Nicolas Cage) and his smush-faced, red-furred truffle hunter pig (Brandy, understudy Cora). He talks to his pig, he cooks meals for his pig, and he forages with his pig for truffles, the rare, delicious subterranean mushrooms he sells to a prickly upstart truffle distributor (Alex Wolff) who pulls up onto his property in his yellow Camaro once a week. One evening, the man's pig is stolen by a violent gang, and he vows to do everything he can to bring her back. So begins director Michael Sarnoski's film Pig, which spins a meditative, emotional tale of companionship and acceptance of loss around a subdued performance from Cage the likes of which haven't been seen in a very long time. The movie is as moody and deliberate as its protagonist, owing less to a straightforward thriller like Taken and more to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, a journey into the underworld on faith alone, in which love is tested, harsh truths are revealed, and heartbreak is inevitable. —ES
Where to watch it: Rent on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube (Watch the trailer)


Release date: November 17, 2021, in theaters; December 1 on Netflix
Director: Jane Campion
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee
Why it's worth seeing: The Piano director Jane Campion's return to feature filmmaking after more than a decade away is an absolute triumph, a chilling exploration of a man driven to cruelty by the pursuit of a masculine ideal in the American West. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Phil Burbank, a rancher who prides himself on the dirt under his fingernails and his ability to live with as few amenities as possible. He worships a rider named Bronco Henry and calls his softer brother George (Jesse Plemons) "fatso." When George marries a widowed innkeeper Rose (Kirsten Dunst), Phil makes it his mission to mentally torture her. He is similarly inclined to do that to her son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who arrives at the ranch on summer holiday from college studies, but instead decides to take him under his wing, figuring he can mold him into the kind of man he thinks is worth being. Campion's direction is dangerously erotic, while Benedict Cumberbatch gives one of his all-time great performances as a man so uncomfortable in his own skin he inflicts his pain upon others. —EZ
Where to watch it:Netflix (Watch the trailer)

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