A2P Cinema's Favorite Films of 2021

Perhaps the theater going experience has altered or been limited and difficult to find a variety of films. Certainly the pandemic plays into it, but the reality is multiplexes were headed towards the direction anyway. Art always evolves and cinema has shown that in the turn of this decade, movies are finding ways to connect on personal levels - through a variety of styles.

2021 was filled with exciting new films from longtime masters - including the much awaited return of the remarkable and unique Jane Campion; as well as a delightful 70s hangout film from the great Paul Thomas Anderson. Like the lead characters in that film always running toward something (and/or perhaps running away from something), the year in films floated along with an energy that reminds us all of the lasting power of movies and moviemaking!

As of December 31st, I saw 72 new films in 2021 which is more then the Covid restricted year of 2020, but still way below past years. Here are 65 films I enjoyed in some way or another, along with direct links to the imdb page for more information.

Recently added (after 12/31):
CODA; Summer of Soul; Tick Tick Boom!; Free Guy; The Tender Bar; Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar; The Harder They Fall; I Care A Lot; Bad Trip.

Notable films yet to see:
Titane; Dune; Cyrano; Oxygen; A Journal for Jordan; Encanto; After Yang; Wrong Turn; Pig; American Underdog; No Sudden Move; Those Who Wish Me Dead; No Time to Die; The Voyuers; Four Good Days; Army of the Dead; In the Heights; Awake; Zola; The Forever Purge; Flag Day; The Starling; Jungle Cruise; Fatherhood; Black As Night; Halloween Kills; A Mouthful of Air; Violet; Heart of Champions; Red Notice; Flee; Limbo; Mass; Swan Song; among some others.


1The Humans
Stephen Karam, United States

The Humans is the directorial debut from Stephen Karam and its based on his play. Karam does an impressive job at making this cinematic - almost an expressionistic horror piece. I love how Karam uses sound and especially uses camera framing to express the apartment as another character. The atmosphere is heightened by the films lack of natural sunlight, overlapping dialogue and subtle sound design. There is such an unnerving sense of doom that plays alongside the anxieties/fears of the flawed characters who ultimately are striving to hold onto an unconditional love that family often provides.

2… Licorice Pizza
Paul Thomas Anderson, United States

Paul Thomas Anderson is my favorite current American filmmaker and this is his 9th feature. Stylistically it is an interesting follow-up to Phantom Thread but under the surface both share themes that have been reflected throughout the filmmakers masterful career. While this film is not as seemingly measured as Phantom Thread, make no mistake that Anderson is in full control of everything here. If Phantom Thread was his Vertigo, this hangout film is his Rio Bravo... but ultimately such simplifications are not fair to any of those films, all of which will stand as American treasures!

3… The Novice
Lauren Hadaway, United States

“Remember your competition”. This film is as good as I've seen in psychologically examining compulsion and obsessive desire. Directed by first time feature filmmaker Lauren Hadaway who delivers a creative design of images and sounds with a powerful leader performance by Isabelle Fuhrman.

4C'mon C'mon
Mike Mills, United States

Mike Mills film is filled with ideas and is very intelligent and honest. Credit to Mills for avoiding directions this could have gone and the result is touching, intimate and authentic, heightened by incredible performances - Joaquin Phoenix, young child actor Woody Norman and Gaby Hoffmann.

5Drive My Car
Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, Japan

Directed with a seemingly effortless mastery by Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (one of Japan's best contemporary filmmakers) Drive My Car is patient film full of senses. Using Chekhov's Uncle Vanya as a backdrop, the film is concerned with the very idea of artistic creation or more specifically art as form of personal access and emotion. The film is best in the moments its reveals its quiet rhythm and tone shifts.

6The Power of the Dog
Jane Campion, UK / Canada / Australia / New Zealand / US

It's been 12 years since Jane Campion's last feature - 2009's masterpiece Bright Star. The Power of the Dog is another remarkable achievement. A film that features Campion's unique filmmaking style and camera framing as expression of repressed sexuality - now from the male perspective.

7Bergman Island
Mia Hansen-Løve, France / Belgium / Germany / Sweden

Mia Hansen-Løve's latest film is a lighter tone and simplistic yet incredibly rich. This is not for everyone but Bergman Island is a film-lovers film in many ways.

8Come True
Anthony Scott Burns, Canada

Come True is a great work of atmospheric horror filmmaking. It has a unsettling tone in the mode of great horror/scifi cinema. Its a film essentially detailing dreams so it offers a depth that is philosophical and thought provoking and confusing but always surreal. Maybe this wont work for everyone but this has the intended look/feel of a dream/nightmare while also thoughts and ideas it expresses and asks without simple answers.

9The Velvet Underground
Todd Haynes, United States

The Velvet Underground is my all-time favorite band and Todd Haynes seems like just the right filmmaker for this material notably in how reflective the influence is on Haynes himself. Haynes like the band has a very experimental approach and one of the underlying joys of this film is how this documentary subtly shows this all while going into great detail of this greatly under appreciated band.

10… The Night House
David Bruckner, United Kingdom / United States

The Night House is a film about grief and terror and David Bruckner and it carries an underlying depth. It's visually engrossing while also providing some clever narrative directions and a topnotch lead performance from Rebecca Hall.

11Parallel Mothers
Pedro Almodóvar, Spain / France

Parallel Mothers is one of beloved filmmakers Pedro Almodóvar best films in years (to me his best since 2006's Volver, which is probably my favorite Almodovar film) and Penélope Cruz gives another incredible layered perfomance in this rich melodrama.

12… A Quiet Place Part II
John Krasinski, United States

This sequel is clever, layered and incredibly tense. Credit to filmmaker John Krasinski and this cast for a follow-up film that is able to stand on its own.

13… West Side Story
Steven Spielberg, United States

While this is Steven Spielberg's first official musical - yet in so many ways the material seems such a fit for the master (look no further then the Busby Berkeley inspired opening in Temple of Doom) and he delivers a respectful, and refreshing adaptation for a new generation. This is so well made and is made like a throwback but also feels so right for today!

James Wan, United States / China

If you can get on board with what visionary horror filmmaker James Wan is doing with his latest film Malignant, you'll enjoy every minute of this.

15Last Night in Soho
Edgar Wright, United Kingdom

I adore Edgar Wright films and he's always embraced his many cinematic influences. Last Night in Soho is his take on giallo horror and it is very evident how much of a fan he is of those films. While this might not soar with the heart of Wright's very best film, Last Night in Soho is fun and pulls you into its 60s world and film influences.

Pablo Larraín, United Kingdom / Germany / United States / Chile

Pablo Larraín's Spencer is to me a superior film to his previous historical figure biopic (Jackie). It's a visually stunning achievement and the period details are on point. Kristen Stewart delivers in the role of Princess Diana. The films great strength is that even though not everything here is based on true events, you really feel as if you are taken into the space and you feel apart of the weekend.

17King Richard
Reinaldo Marcus Green, United States

So many films like this true life inspirational sports story have been made and failed, but King Richard really hits on its intended notes and even overcomes the little biopic cliches. As a huge fan of the Williams sisters from their very start I was skeptical how this would translate into a feature film but credit to the filmmakers and of course the performances.

18Petite Maman
Céline Sciamma, France

Céline Sciamma scales down to the more intimate tone of her best film (2011's Tomboy) with Petite Maman. There is an intentional childlike yet haunting vision to this film that really makes it caring.

19The Woman Who Ran
Hong Sang-soo, South Korea

Hong Sang-soo continues to be one of the most prolific filmmakers in contemporary cinema. The Woman Who Ran is told in three parts and it is a gentle, unforceful film that I've enjoyed as much as any of Hong's films in the last 10 years.

20El Planeta
Amalia Ulman, Spain / United States

El Planeta is bittersweet comedy with a very light and free. It's authentic in emotions but stylistically its countered by a playfully made approach.

21The Worst Person in the World
Joachim Trier, Norway / France / Sweden / Denmark

The Worst Person in the World is the fifth feature from Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier. Renate Reinsve is tremendous in the lead role and the character is one that you can easily connect and relate with even in the flawed moments. The audience is truly with this character through the film and the emotions/flaws/dialogue generates an authentic dynamic. Its funny and heartbreaking and above all is daring in the way it goes against formula expectation.

22The French Dispatch
Wes Anderson, United States

While influences are evident, Wes Anderson truly has a style of his own. Some films work more then others and I found this one to be refreshing. Its episodic so some stories work better then others but it is the right kind of film from Anderson. I'd rank this somewhere 5th or 6th of his 10 films.

23Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar
Josh Greenbaum, United States / Mexico

The credit of the film is the way it avoids spoof and that really develops after the first 15 minutes (once they get to Vista Del Mar - a fictional Florida vacation community). There is a genuine care for these characters and it reminded me of an old-fashioned screwball comedy. It is silly but the film embraces all of its silliness and it doesn't hold back.

24The Tragedy of Macbeth
Joel Coen, United States

Macbeth has been adapted on screen in many ways by some all-time great filmmakers. Joel Coen (without his brother Ethan, who is currently taking a break from moviemaking) brings a powerful adaptation with brilliant sparse visual designs and tremendous performances (highlighted by a showstopping Kathryn Hunter as the three witches!).

Enrico Casarosa, United States

Luca is a laid back coming-of-age fantasy film from Pixar (the 24th film from the studio). This one is not among the very best but I'd rank it high on the overall Pixar list which is saying alot. It is definitely a feel good film going experience.

26Summer of Soul (Or When the Revolution Could Not be Televised)
Questlove, United States

Questlove's directional debut is a straightforward documentary features the 1969 Harlem Culture Festival, a series of free performances celebrating Black music and culture in Harlem’s Mount Morris Park. Straightforward in style yet so much depth and thoughtful ideas emerge and the music acts lone are enough to cherish this powerful and relevant film.

27Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy
Ryusuke Hamaguchi, United States

Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is a collection of three short films centered on real-time conversations and the intense depth of emotions provoked by them.

Ivan Kavanagh, Ireland / United States / United Kingdom

The Son is a slow-burn horror movie that while playing with formula still offers some clever surprises and a building the paranoid tension. I really liked this film and it has plenty to offer fans of horror.

29Cry Macho
Clint Eastwood, United States

Cry Macho seems to be a reflection of many of Eastwood films yet has a gentleness in its storytelling unique from anything he’s ever done. It’s not at the level of say Million Dollar Baby (few films ever have or will be!), but this is a charming and simplistic film from a cinema icon.

30Little Fish
Chad Hartiga, United States / Canada

Little Fish is a film that raises alot of philophical ideas of memories and its made honestly and with care. It was made Chad Hartigan and this is the first I've see from him.

31In the Earth
Ben Wheatley, United Kingdom

Ben Wheatley’s In the Earth is a timely film that seems to effectively blend several different horror filmmaking styles.

Kenneth Branagh, United States

Belfast is a crowd pleasing film that most audiences can find something to connect with. Strong ensemble cast and you can feel that it is a very personal film for Kenneth Branagh who is usually known for directing Shakespeare adaptations.

33The Last Duel
Ridley Scott, United States / United Kingdom

Ridley Scott's latest epic film The Last Duel is told in three points of view, which can be a bit too much but it also helps builds out lots of details with the characters. Credit to Ridley Scott for allowing the actors to speak without fake accents as often found in these films.

Sian Heder, United States / France / Canada

A smashing hit at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival (where it won more awards then any other film in the festivals history) CODA is a caring film with great performances. There are formula cliches but the film is at its best when dealing with the small family dynamics and some moments really soar.

Rebecca Hall, United States / United Kingdom / Canada

Rebecca Hall's feature directiorial debut is beautfully shot in black and white photography and deals with strong racial messages. It raises some strong conflicts and its strength is the way it avoids being preachy in its messages.

36The Card Counter
Paul Schrader, United Kingdom / United States / China

Paul Schrader follows up his best film (First Reformed) with another strong work here. Oscar Isaac helps propel the rhythm and intensity of the film with his strong lead performance.

37The Matrix Resurrections
Lana Wachowski, United States / United Kingdom / Australia

Not the groundbreaking impact of the original and lacking the great action choreography that made that film so memorable, but this one does offer a surprising depth in its melodrama and romance as well as a refreshing reboot concept.

38Red Rocket
Sean Baker, United States

Sean Baker's follow-up to The Florida Project finds the filmmaker in another poor American community with a big money industry as the backdrop (now Texas and big oil). Baker again avoids judgment and the film features some terrific performances from Simon Rex and Suzanna Son.

Nia DaCosta, United States / Canada / Australia

The original 1992 Candyman is an underrated horror film and this remake co-written by Jordan Pelle with director Nia DaCosta. This film is not on par with the original but this film is respectfully is trying to stand on its own, specifically for a new era. DaCosta has a skillful touch with visual compositions adding a layer of mood to this film.

Tsai Ming-liang, United States

Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang made some of my favorite films of the 90s and early 00s. He's made very few feature length films in the last 15 years (though he's done many shorts). Days is a typical minimalist film from Tsai and again dealing with alienation - heightened in trademark long extended takes and minimal dialogue.

Leos Carax, France / Belgium / Germany / United States

Known for some of the most bizarre films Leos Carax's latest, Annette is his first musical and it will not disappoint fans of his work. This one is also insane and challenging and completely unique. Bold performances from the always wonderful Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver. Intense and messy Annette is not a film for everyone but it is going for just that.

42The Green Knight
David Lowery, Ireland / Canada / US / UK

David Lowery's sixth feature is a fantasy epic that does a good job of taking you into its world. As expected from Lowery its a slow building film. Visually stunning, this is a film I can see having a strong audience of high praise.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Colombia / Thailand / France / etc

Memoria is directed by the great Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul and this film will be enjoyed by his fans. Starring Tilda Swinton and mostly in English this is still very much in the mode of Apichatpong's distinctively unique vision - with slow, long takes and skillful sound design. Like many of Apichatpong's films I admire this but don't love it on initial viewing.

44...The Lost Daughter
Maggie Gyllenhaal, United States / Greece

An interesting debut feature from Maggie Gyllenhaal. The Lost Daughter feels very European and its the kind of film that can probably be seen in different tones. I'm curious what I'll think on repeat viewings.

Mamoru Hosoda, United States

Japanese animated filmmaker Mamoru Hosoda is responsible for two of the very best animted festures (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars). Belle is his eighth feature and while to me its not the level of his two best films Belle does recall much of the style and themes.

46Don't Breathe 2
Rodo Sayagues, United States / Serbia

The first Don't Breathe film felt more like what it was - a great short film concept that the filmmaker tried to make a feature length. Now here with some more freedom and a different tone this sequel is probably superior to the original.

47tick, tick BOOM!
Lin-Manuel Miranda, United States

A terrific energetic lead performance from Andrew Garfield and a couple beautiful shot sequences (notably a cleverly shot scene where a pool turns into music notes). I was never invested into this fully but I respect the film as a well made/performed achievement.

48Free Guy
Shawn Levy, United States

Kudos to the filmmakers and cast for making this solid material work. This could have been a good idea gone wrong but this film keeps the many elements going on very simple at its heart. I'm not a gamer at all but I still had fun with this film and I appreciate the films title which is clever and subtly offers multiple interpretations.

49We Need To Do Something
Sean King O'Grady, United States

We Need to Do Something takes place in a confined space and it creates a strong claustrophobic vibe. The film just keeps throwing out more crazy madness as it goes and its a bit all over the place but I could see this film getting some cult following over time.

50The Nowhere Inn
Bill Benz, United States

The Nowhere Inn is a mockumentary style film that blends all types of emotions. It is a clever film and maybe sometimes is overly clever that will not be for everyone but this is an interesting film.

Karen Cinorre, United States

Mayday is a bit heavy in its metaphor but it does a very strong job of taking you into its fantasy world.

Ferdinando Cito Filomarino, Italy / Brazil

This film is best when at it most simple, which is mostly in the first half. Its does a nice job of using landscapes and at its best moments has some of the Hitchcock wrong man vibes.

53The Woman in the Window
Joe Wright, United States

The Woman in the Window is an obvious nod to Hitchcock (especially Rear Window) and while nowhere near the depth of that layered masterpiece, this is still effective for what it is and Joe Wright is an intelligent filmmaker.

54Ghostbusters: Afterlife
Jason Reitman, United States

While it loses some energy towards the final act, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a fun reboot of the franchise and its definitely nostalgic of its original.

M. Night Shyamalan, United States / Japan

M. Night Shyamalan's films are usually at their best when they fully embrace the silliness and Old succeeds at this more then some of his other recent films (most notably The Visit and the Split films).

56Blue Bayou
Justin Chon, United States / Canada

Overdone a bit to me yet this film feels very personal to the filmmaker and that is admirable, and its a timely film with great setting and solid performances.

57Nightmare Alley
Guillermo del Toro, United States / Mexico / Canada

I absolutely love the 1947 original and while this has some fine qualities, it is a disappointment. Guillermo del Toro shifts a bit from his monster movies, but I think he may be too in love with the noir style he's attempting to make, because this one lacks the soul that usually define his work.

Nathalie Biancheri, Ireland / United Kingdom / Poland

Lots of metaphors here makes this feel a bit too serious but its a good film that I may enjoy more with repeat viewings. The cast is strong.

59I Care A Lot
J Blakeson, United States / Canada

Stylishly made film that is engrossing for much of the way but looses interest in the final act and the ending feels lazy. Its an intentionally cruel movie and I'm not sure if this films wants us to root for this protagonist (well performed by Rosamund Pike in a role the seems to be a version of her performance in Gone Girl).

60Bad Trip
Kitao Sakurai, United States

Bad Trip is the latest entry in this seemingly growing new genre of improv comedy/pranks within the unsuspecting public. My expectations were very low so this surprised me with its laughs and credit to the three main actors for truly committing to these characters with bold performances. The bits don't all work for me but this will find a wide fan base for sure.

Miguel Sapochnik, United KIngdom / United States

Many will compare this is another Tom Hanks film Cast Away but that is unfair as this is not on the same level. Finch is a charming but not a lasting film.

62The World to Come
Mona Fastvold, United States

The World to Come is a film I admire and is worth watching but I can't really say its an enjoyable film expirence.

63The Harder They Fall
Jeymes Samuel, United States

Not much of a story here to this western but it attempts to offer some fresh ideas and is mostly a fun, stylish film in Tarantino-influenced mode. I didn't love this film yet I understand what its going for and if you get behind what the cast and filmmakers are doing, it can be a fun ride.

64Being the Ricardos
Aaron Sorkin, United States

Aaron Sorkin has penned some work but with Being the Ricardos he may have bitten off a bit too much as this feels snooty and his direction is unfocused. Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem are strong and I will give the film credit for some of it subtle layered moments.

65... Benedetta
Paul Verhoeven, France / Belgium / Netherlands

Trademark shock value from Paul Verhoeven this uneven film has some playfulness on initial viewing but I'm not sure what if any depth will come upon repeat viewings.

66House of Gucci
Ridley Scott, Canada / United States

A mostly fun and good looking film with fine performances, but Ridley Scott's House of Gucci lacks depth and failed to ever connect.

67John and the Hole
Pascual Sisto, United States

Twisted concept and is well shot to help build the atmosphere this one. Its a cold and distance film which also hurts it in some ways.

Argyris Papadimitropoulos, United Kingdom / United States / Greece

Formulaic but soild romantic comedy from Greek filmmaker Argyris Papadimitropoulos.

Scott Cooper, United States / Mexico / Canada

Trailers for this and the delay in the release due to Covid might have hurt as I went in with higher expectations. I am hopeful repeat viewings will improve.

70The Little Things
John Lee Hancock, United States

A very (very) familiar narrative with obvious debt towards David Fincher's Seven. Its not as cinematic or as clever as a film like that and its a film that is not all that memorable once the credits roll, but I found it still watchable formula.

71The Tender Bar
George Clooney, United States

A mixed emotional tone between first and second halves makes this a fine but shortly forgettable film. It does offer plenty of warmth which is endearing but it is at its best when we are following the young JR.

Nora Fingscheidt, United Kingdom / Germany / United States

Unforgivable is often heavy in its message and avoids taking any daring chances with its easy cop-out ending reveal but there is some good intentions here and the melodrama is mostly effective.

73The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
Michael Chaves, United States / United Kingdom

I admire the first two Conjuring films but the franchise (now without its visionary James Wan directing) may be wearing thin with the spinoffs and this third entry. This is still watchable but you can see/feel the difference Wan makes.

74The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Michael Showalter, Canada / United States

Jessica Chastain shines as expected in this otherwise standard biopic. The film never is consistent in its tone but Chastain carries it along.


See other current A2P Cinema Lists:

A2P Cinema's 200 Favorite Films of 2010s

A2P Cinema's 200 Favorite Films of 1990s
A2P Cinema's 200 Favorite Films of 1980s

A2P Cinema's 200 Favorite Films of 1970s
A2P Cinema's 200 Favorite Films of 1960s
A2P Cinema's 200 Favorite Films of 1950s
A2P Cinema's Horror Films of History