With the vaccinations rolling out earlier this year, the theaters also opened back up to the world. Once again we could buy our tickets, get our popcorn, and find a comfy seat in a dark theater to enjoy the movies of the year. Some movies offered simultaneous digital releases allowing people to enjoy from the safety of their homes, expanding the accessibility of film. With so many options and so many delayed movies finally coming out, here is The Beat staff’s picks for best movies of 2021!


CODA dir. Sian Heder

Coda
Image via Apple TV+

A heart-warming and inspiring coming-of-age story, CODA is not only about a young girl’s responsibilities and experiences as a child of deaf adults (hence the film’s name), but also about that girl finding and realizing her dreams and gaining the courage to pursue them. There’s been a lot of talk about CODA and its standing as the first film in almost 50 years to feature a primarily deaf cast, but Sian Heder‘s feature is about more than just deafness and it’s sure to touch the hearts of all audiences. – Therese Lacson

The Dig dir. Simon Stone

the dig
Image via Netflix

I’m still not entirely sure why Netflix didn’t give this film an awards run, or maybe it did, considering the weirdness of awards season this past year. Still, this is a film about a dying woman (Carey Mulligan) and her quest to understand and unearth ancient English burial grounds, with the help of a soft-spoken archeologist (Ralph Fiennes). It’s a meditation on life and history, with gorgeous cinematography and top-notch stiff British lip acting. It was a pleasant surprise in a year mostly empty of them. – Ruth Johnson

Dune dir. Denis Villeneuve

Dune
Image via Warner Bros.

It’s obvious by the time you’re halfway through Dune that this is being made by someone who is in love with this property. Sometimes that is actually detrimental to an adaptation when a creative is too myopic, but Denis Villeneuve impressively blended together with the complex lore of the world with a detailed look at the planet Arrakis and its inhabitants. There’s already the second film in the works, and we can only hope that Villeneuve will manage to stick the landing. – Therese Lacson

Drive My Car dir. Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Drive My Car
Image via Bitters End

The only film this year that threatened to topple Paul Thomas Anderson’s stranglehold on my top spot was this quiet, and frankly unassuming, drama from Japan – that at three hours long, is a proposition that could scare off many a viewer. But reader, fear not, as Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s short story sucks you in immediately, and the time just flies by. A gorgeous excavation of fidelity, loss, and how communication of art can cross language barriers. A staggering achievement from one of the world’s finest filmmakers that I’m delighted to say has taken both the top critics prizes in both New York and Los Angeles, and it could be quickly squeezing its way into the Best Picture race. – Kyle Pinion

Flee dir. Jonas Poher Rasmussen

flee
Image via Sundance Institute.

I’ve been raving about this documentary since January, when I saw it at Sundance, Jonas Poher Rasmussen‘s doc is not just a story about the survival of a refugee, but it is about what you must sacrifice to survive and what identity means to someone who has all of their rights and power stripped away. It’s hard to imagine anyone going through what Amin does in this story and coming out alright, but that he does give us hope and shines a small light on a life that too many people know too little about. – Therese Lacson

The Green Knight dir. David Lowery

the green knight
Image via A24

There were probably more than a few moviegoers who came out of The Green Knight disappointed. But what creator David Lowery delivered in this adaptation of the 14th-century Arthurian poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is far more contemplative, surreal, and dense. As a meditation on our complicated relationships with duty, legacy, and mortality, it’s a hauntingly thought-provoking work of art. There’s no shortage of individual parts of The Green Knight to ruminate over: the majestic cinematography by Andrew Droz Palermo, Dev Patel’s tortured performance as Sir Gawain, the special effects that put the vast majority of blockbusters to shame… but mostly, I think about how I felt walking out of the theater after letting this singular vision wash over me. The Green Knight is the kind of movie that reminds me why I keep chasing the high of great art. – Greg Paul Silber

The Last Duel dir. Ridley Scott

The Last Duel
Image via 20th Century Studios

I am as disappointed as Ridley Scott, and a little surprised, that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s long-awaited onscreen reunion didn’t get more love. Ben and Matt reignited their legendary screenwriting partnership with fellow Oscar-winning screenwriter Nicole Holofcener co-writing for good measure. A key to this adaptation of Eric Jager’s 2004 nonfiction book is that despite its Rashomon-style telling of this brutal story from three different perspectives, the film explicitly tells its audience that “The Truth According to Marguerite” is the correct one. Some have described The Last Duel as “a #MeToo story,” and while that’s a little reductive, it is indeed a film about the ways in which hubris and fragile egos make men dangerous for the women they’re performatively chivalrous towards. In a time when many audiences seem to be demanding that all films must have clear-cut narratives of good triumphing over evil, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised there wasn’t much interest in a film that boldly shows how justice is rarely served in a clean, satisfying manner. – Greg Paul Silber

Licorice Pizza dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

Licorice Pizza
Image via Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

There isn’t much else I can say about Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest masterpiece that I didn’t already say in my review for The Beat, where I called it the year’s best film and having seen it a second time since then, my feelings have just been solidified even further. It remains the most accessible film PTA has made since Boogie Nights while losing none of the literary edge that he’s continued to hone since There Will Be Blood. I can’t wait to own it and watch it over and over again, uncovering new treasures, the usual par for the course in my relationship with his recent work. It’s playing near you now, so what are you waiting for? – Kyle Pinion

Luca dir. Enrico Casarosa

Luca
Image via Walt Disney Studios

One of my favorite little films of the year, this magical Pixar feature is exactly what I needed and wanted this summer. A literal fish-out-of-water tale, its humor, joy, and heart made it a truly enjoyable experience. It’s also a beautiful movie, showcasing a quirky, out-of-time version of Italy. Its heartwarming story puts it among Pixar’s best. – Ruth Johnson

The Matrix Resurrections dir. Lana Wachowski

The Matrix Resurrections
Image via Warner Bros.

How do you resurrect a franchise like The Matrix? The answer is, however the hell Lana Wachowski wants. The return to the world of Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus is probably a lot different than you expected it to be, but would you really have it any other way? In the months leading up to the release of the fourth movie in The Matrix series, fellow Beat editor Therese Lacson and I have been taking an incredibly deep dive into The Matrix Universe on our podcast, Matrix 404, and the fourth movie in the series does not disappoint. Will those who have a more casual relationship with the franchise enjoy the movie just as much as us “Neo-ologists” do? The answer to that probably lies in your degree of acceptance of Lana’s unapologetic perspective, which informs every scene of the movie. Personally, I’m looking forward to watching Resurrections just as often as I’ve enjoyed the original trilogy. – Avery Kaplan

No Time to Die dir. Cary Joji Fukunaga

No Time to Die
Image via United Artists Releasing

Maybe I’m just a 007 diehard (probably), but I thought No Time To Die was a fun movie that wasn’t the downer despite the fact that it could’ve been. Daniel Craig’s last Bond movie is probably better on a big screen as opposed to the small – it’s a pretty epic film, like most of Craig’s outings – but there’s no denying it’s at the very least an interesting look at this particular Bond’s methods and legacy. – Ruth Johnson

Pig dir. Michael Sarnoski

Pig
Image via Neon

If you watch the trailer for Pig, or perhaps read a synopsis, you’d be forgiven for assuming it’s an action film or a violent revenge thriller. After all, it stars Nicolas Cage as a reclusive truffle forager on a quest to retrieve his beloved truffle pig after a violent home invasion in the dead of night. I’ve advised friends to avoid the trailer and go into Pig as blind as possible, but on second thought, the misdirection is probably intentional. Pig is not remotely an action film or any variety of “genre” film for that matter. It’s a heartfelt drama about holding onto the things we hold dear, the dangers of living life for anyone but ourselves and our loved ones, the powerful relationship between food and memory, and so much more. The fact that Pig doesn’t feature any explosively violent confrontations is key to what makes it such an unforgettable experience. It’s not a film about making villains face justice. It’s about what we do to bring peace and joy to our lives. – Greg Paul Silber

Spider-Man: No Way Home dir. Jon Watts

spider-man no way home
Image via Sony/Marvel

Spider-Man: No Way Home is Marvel’s head-spinning movie intro to the multiverse (Loki and What If…? were our primers). NWH picks off right where Spider-Man: Far From Home left us, with the identity of Spider-Man known to the whole world. I’ve watched this movie four times now and I still can’t get over the fact that MIT’s application ordeal carried this entire movie plot. It reminds me of what Stan Lee once said about Spidey, that everybody relates to him. Though it was unintentional, it became one of the core superhero ethics Peter Parker carries even today. Spider-Man has been a part of my life for over 20 years, given that the cinematic web slingers played a huge role in this journey more than the comics and video games. I’m going to stop being extensively nostalgic and overbearingly sentimental right now, so see you on the flip side. – Sajida Ayyup

tick, tick… BOOM! dir. Lin-Manuel Miranda

Tick, Tick...Boom!
Image via Netflix

Biopics always have me floating in a pool of tears, both happy and sad. But this year, tick, tick… BOOM! not only ruptured my life preserver but also cut off the only oxygen supply I had on me. The poignant story of Jonathan Larson fittingly develops the final years of his life in New York City as a struggling composer and playwright, even so fittingly directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who revealed that his 21-year-old self watching the off-Broadway production of tick, tick… BOOM! was like a “message in a bottle.” Andrew Garfield plays the titular role and absolutely smashes it, I mean the way he acts with his entire body? The Amazing Spider-Man fam, you get it right? This movie made me rethink every decisions I’d ever made as a writer, and it helped me self-reflect on many levels. – Sajida Ayyup

Titane dir. Julia Ducournau

Titane
Image via Neon

Not too long ago I had finally watched David Cronenberg’s Crash, and while I enjoyed it, it didn’t quite fit the film that I had been formulating in my head all of these years. Well, somehow I must have telekinetically connected with Julia Ducournau, because much of the imaginary movie I’d had bouncing around in my head came to life with her Palme d’Or winning effort Titane. I don’t want to say too much about the film, because having very few preconceived notions around what the story is about provides much of its power in your first viewing…but, I’ll just say: a woman has sex with a car, and it just builds from there. If that doesn’t at least pique your interest a little bit, I don’t even know what to say! – Kyle Pinion


Honorable mentions also go to The Tragedy of Macbeth, In the Same Breath, Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings, A Quiet Place Part II, The Suidice Squad, Fear Street, and King Richard.

Did we miss any of your favorites? Let us know!

2 COMMENTS

  1. Spider-Man was not the best Marvel movie in my opinion. Peter Parker is the Walter White of the MCU, constantly making stupid decisions that eventually leads to what he could have done at the beginning of the movie

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