The best films of 2021

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Clockwise from top left: The Power Of The Dog (Photo: Netflix), West Side Story (Photo: 20th Century Studios), Memoria (Photo: Neon), Licorice Pizza (Photo: MGM), The French Dispatch Of The Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun (Photo: Searchlight Pictures)

Clockwise from top left: The power of the dog (Photo: Netflix), West Side Story (Photo: 20th Century Studios), Memory (Photo: neon), Licorice Pizza (Photo: MGM), The French Freedom Expedition, Kansas Evening Sun (Photo: Projector images)
Graphic: Natalie Peeples

2021 would appear to be the strangest year for cinema of all of our respective lives without 2020. Things haven’t exactly returned to normal in the past 12 months; we’re still heavily affected by a pandemic and actually face the very real possibility of a return to strict lockdown conditions, if these Omicron numbers are any indication. But thanks to the vaccine rollout (and subsequent booster shots), theaters scored a few wins, once again welcoming audiences with all the blockbusters delayed in the previous year. Those looking for symbolic evidence that #MoviesAreBack might find them in James Bond’s triumphant return, gearing up for a climactic big-screen adventure, 18 months after the dramatic announcement that No time to die would like not soon in a theater near anyone.

The movies never left, of course. Not really. We have lots of beautiful ones Last year, when theaters were mostly inactive or not very busy, and much more during 2021, regardless of fluctuations in the number of spectators. Like every year, most of the films on The AV Clubthe ‘best of’ list was not the kind of big studio production making a comeback at the moment; only one of the 25 films in our ranking had a gigantic budget, and its show was more of a song and dance than a cape and a hood. Do you want superheroes? Look for them in the box office charts, not here.

So what did our 10 ballot contributors turn to instead? Westerns and musicals. Anthology projects and stage adaptations. A joyful concert film and a melancholy animated documentary. If these films had anything in common beyond their overall excellence, it was the opportunity to see each of them on the big screen – a once normal privilege that turned into an unnatural (and at times stressful) treat in 2021, and that we don’t hope to become a total fun of the past again, again, in 2022.


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