By Tim Basaraba
Listed below are my top 21 films of 2021….twice. The film viewing experience is sacred to me and it wouldn’t be fair to our readers if I didn’t distinguish between films I saw in the theater and those I streamed at home.
In 2020 I saw 35 films that came out that year. I doubled that in 2021. Here are the best 42 of those 70 films, as well as the 10 worst films I saw in 2021.
The 21 Best Films I Saw in a Theatre in 2021
Going to my church, the theater, is a religious experience. Especially when I achieve Optimum Immersion – knowing next to nothing about the film ahead of time.
In 2021, I achieved in-theater Optimum Immersion with several excellent films including Benedetta, Lamb, The Green Knight, Blue Bayou, Titane and C’Mon C’Mon. Avoiding a trailer for Titane and Benedetta, in particular, added to my sense of the wonderment for these films and undoubtedly influenced their ranking. Meanwhile, seeing well-crafted and largely ambiguous teasers for C’Mon C’Mon, Lamb and The Green Knight led to near Optimum Immersion. Is it a coincidence that A24 released all three films? Nope. The studio that’s doing everything right extends its prowess to trailers.
As a lover of comic books long before I became a lover of film, my 2021 list also includes a number of entries for which Optimum Immersion was impossible. After all, half the fun of the Marvel and DC filmgoing experience is imbibing in the intoxicating effects of pre-premiere hype from sources like Dan Murrell, The Reel Rejects and Emergency Awesome. Spider-Man No Way Home, The Suicide Squad, Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Black Widow, The Eternals and yes even Venom: Let There Be Carnage were all very good films.
Also populating the list are films by directors who seldom fail to impress, like Ridley Scott, Wes Anderson, Denis Villeneuve, and Guillermo Del Toro. Rounding out my selections are a few great animated features (Encanto, Ron’s Gone Wrong), which seems like the best way to communicate difficult subject matter to the masses, as well as some films made by directors I wasn’t previously familiar with (Spencer, Blue Bayou and Candyman), but who’s past and present work I will seek out.
To me, the best art is art that inspires, and my favorite film of the year, Mike Mills’ black-and-white drama with Joaquin Phoenix, C’Mon C’Mon, does just that. Like the aforementioned ambiguous trailers of A24, I don’t want to give anything away, so I will leave it there and hope my recommendation alone will send you to your favorite service to watch my favorite film of 2021.
21. Nightmare Alley
18. Black Widow
17. Blue Bayou
15. Venom: Let There Be Carnage
11. Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
10. Ron’s Gone Wrong
9. The Green Knight
8. The Suicide Squad
6. Spider-Man No Way Home
4. The French Dispatch
2. The Last Duel
1. C’Mon C’Mon
The 21 Best Films I Streamed at Home in 2021
Optimum Immersion – the art of viewing a film without any advance knowledge – is more difficult at home than in theaters. The comfort of pressing pause to grab a bite to eat, go to the bathroom, or take out the dogs can pull me away from what I’m watching. However, with these 21 great 2021 films, and the return to strong cinematic narrative that they represent, Optimum Immersion came easily.
Paying for more than five streaming services has us, “the consumer,” back to “cable prices” but it feels worth it…cable never brought us such a wide array of quality films. Here’s what each of the major streaming platforms delivered in 2021.
Netflix led the way with five films in my top 21: the polarizing Don’t Look Up, the slick heist film Army of Thieves, Oscar-bait Power of the Dog, and even some lighthearted films that made me laugh on different levels like Moxie and Bad Trip.
Hulu brought the pain with three films that brought me to my emotional knees: Pig, The United States vs Billie Holiday and Saint Maude. And Tick, Tick…BOOM! dried my tears of sadness enough to cry tears of joy.
With their “day and date” approach, HBO Max gave me the opportunity to choose between theater and home viewing with several their releases. I saw many of them in the theater, but King Richard, Judas & the Black Messiah, In the Heights and the surprising 8-Bit Christmas were just what I needed for quality at home viewing.
Disney+ offered two excellent animations to snuggle up to with the dogs and wife in Rya the Last Dragon and Luca. Their bizarre prequel, Cruella, also made the list but I had to explain to the dogs that this iteration of the villain didn’t want to make a coat out of their, uhm…coats.
Of course, we can’t forget Jeff Bezos and his goal of world domination. The strangest film of the year was only available on Amazon. Annette is so unique that I will force myself to view it again, and maybe again after that. Recency bias may have factored into Being the Ricardos’ high ranking on this list, but the script and execution were top tier and I highly recommend it.
And lastly, three films came my way via old-fashioned physical media in 2021. Firing up the old Blu-Ray player was well worth it for Zola, Copshop and the emotional Minari.
With so many options available for film lovers at home, we may be seeing the beginning of the end of multiplexes in their current form. Cinema is evolving. No matter what comes next, I’m along for the ride.
21. 8-Bit Christmas
19. Bad Trip
15. The Power of the Dog
14. Saint Maude
13. In The Heights
11. Army of Thieves
10. The United States vs. Billie Holiday
9. Rya The Last Dragon
8. Judas and the Black Messiah
6. Don’t Look Up
5. King Richard
4. Being the Ricardos
1. Tick, Tick… Boom!
The 10 Worst Films I Saw in 2021 (In Theaters and Streaming)
10. Cry Macho
9. Ghostbusters: Afterlife
8. Tomorrow War
6. Space Jam: A New Legacy
5. Army of the Dead
4. Matrix 4
1. Halloween Kills