These are the best movies released this year, according to film-obsessed CNET staffers.
Remember when No Time To Die was scheduled to be released at the end of 2019? Oh, what a simple time that was.
Two years later, the final Daniel Craig James Bond finally hit cinemas. This year, we were (seemingly) spoiled for blockbusters, from Dune (2021) to The Suicide Squad, A Quiet Place Part 2, Eternals, F9, Venom 2, Godzilla vs. Kong, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
This list will partly appreciate some of those blockbusters. But it’s also (read: mainly) for CNET staffers to lovingly discuss their favorite movies of the year, many of which are probably not going to show up on other critics’ lists. I love — and am surprised that — Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar made this list, for example.
Here are our picks of best movies (released in the US) this year.
The best movies of 2021
No Time To Die
Deadly secret agent James Bond is a man who risks his life a dozen times before breakfast, but the Bond movie formula has always been a little bit safe. That’s not quite true for No Time to Die, though. With the help of Cary Joji Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Daniel Craig zooms into the sunset in his Aston Martin with a superspy swansong that throws a bomb under the Bond formula. The riskiest, weirdest, most character-driven James Bond film ever, No Time to Die has its share of problems but was definitely worth the wait.
Dune could so easily have been a disaster. It’s impenetrable, deeply weird sci-fi. The name is tainted by the whiff of failure from past versions. And its director vocally grumbled about Warner Bros. releasing it simultaneously in theaters and on streaming service HBO Max. And yet Dune was a much-deserved hit, commanding the big screen in the best possible way with a world more richly imagined than most blockbusters could dream of, no matter how much Spice they inhaled. The abrupt ending still drives me nuts, but it’s telling that the twin theatrical/streaming release had one unexpected advantage: As soon as I’d seen this vast cosmic drama on the huge screen, I wanted to go home and watch it again.
I’m a sucker for movies based on true events. I’m also a big fan of tennis. Combine those two passions, and it’s impossible not to be enamored by King Richard, a touching tribute to the father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams, who was central to launching their careers. At times heart wrenching and at others inspiring, the film is a tender portrayal of love, kinship and sacrifice, and a testament to the power of hard work and dreaming big. The acting is phenomenal, with Will Smith, who plays lead Richard Williams, offering one of his best performances. It’s one of those films that’ll leave you feeling motivated and hopeful — much-needed sentiments in today’s world.
I Care a Lot
Two words: Rosamund Pike. Yes, she’s doing what feels like a shade of Amy Dunne from Gone Girl. But her I Care a Lot con artist Marla Grayson is just as memorable, unashamedly stealing money from old people. I Care a Lot is inspired by real news stories of professional guardians in the US and a legal loophole they exploited. It moves at a slick pace, features characters in aviator sunglasses and a doomed anti-heroine who becomes wrapped up with larger-than-life crime lords. All movies should be this entertaining.
The Mitchells vs. the Machines
Producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have one of the best strike rates in the game, particularly when it comes to animated features. The Mitchells vs. the Machines doesn’t hit the dizzy heights of, say, Into The Spiderverse but it’s almost certainly my favorite animated movie of 2021. In a year that’s already brought us Raya and the Last Dragon as well as Luca, that’s no mean feat.
The directorial debut of Mike Rianda, The Mitchells vs. the Machines brings an indie aesthetic to what is essentially a kids movie. It’s a little patronizing and borders on cliche, but carries a charm and wit that barrel through your concerns with the energy and subtlety of a good old Rick Mitchell Special. It’s a rewatchable through and through, with a number of memorable set pieces and a million and one quotable lines. Get on it.
Barb and Star go to Vista Del Mar
Barb and Star is the perfect movie for 2021: no think, just pastel-colored tropical absurdity. It’s also a great escapist movie for when you’re, say, stuck in lockdown in Australia and can’t really see yourself being able to sip cocktails on the beach anytime soon. Bridesmaids dream team Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo both write and star in this glorious campy acid trip as middle-aged, Middle American women who step out of their comfort zones and go on holiday and find their sparkle – and have a threesome with Jamie Dornan. Because of course! It’s ridiculous, it’s hilarious, and there are plenty of whacky twists that make it truly memorable. I’m sorry, but that’s all I can say without ruining too much of it. You just have to let it happen to you, and you’ll have a great time.
Fear Street: 1994/ 1978/ 1666
I went into the Fear Street trilogy with very low expectations – and it exceeded all of them. Fear Street is based on the R.L. Stine series of the same name and caters to older teens more than Goosebumps, which was written more for kids. They’re fun and campy slasher movies with a surprisingly good and heartbreaking story. Of course, there’s some classic R.L. Stine twists that keep you guessing until the very end of part three.
If you’re looking to get more into horror, or even introduce your older teens to the genre (and I mean 15/16 plus – there are some over-the-pants action and sex scenes, which are just not fun to watch as a family), I really recommend these movies! There’s just enough fright and creep factor to leave you on the edge of your seat, but it’s still fun and silly enough to not have to hide behind a pillow the whole time.