Let’s look back at the best movies of the year, from Oscar darlings to indie sweethearts to Bond farewells.
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.
7 The best movies of 2021
The Lost Daughter
The directorial debut from accomplished actress Maggie Gyllenhaal is a stunning sign of (hopefully) more great projects to come. The Lost Daughter, an adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel, mines the fluttering looks and feelings and the tensions between two mothers who experience the same terrifying moment: losing their child. Olivia Colman and Dakota Johnson are powerhouses, burning fire through the seams of this finely crafted portrait of two women. A beautiful, contemplative inferno.
The Power of the Dog
Best picture (drama) winner at the admittedly not terribly prestigious Golden Globes, The Power of the Dog is still unquestionably worth celebrating. From masterful filmmaker Jane Campion, the psychological Western follows Phil and George Burbank, brothers who run a well-off ranch in 1925 Montana. But when one of the brothers marries and adopts a son, a game of power dynamics ensues, with surprising winners and losers. A master class in tension and survival tactics, The Power of the Dog is a film to soak up then meditate over.
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.
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.
Judas and the Black Messiah
Judas and the Black Messiah made waves at the Oscars, earning a best supporting actor win for Daniel Kaluuya, among its many nominations. It was much deserved. Kaluuya is mesmerizing as Fred Hampton, chairman of the Black Panther chapter in Illinois, lighting up the screen alongside Lakeith Stanfield, who plays an FBI informant sent to infiltrate the party. The biopic, dramatizing real-life events in the late ’60s, is riveting and shocking and sizzles with themes about racial injustice. A big, hefty film that demands your full attention.
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