We are now getting deep into the award season for the best films of 2021. And yes, most of the films being honored are very good films, but are they necessarily my favorite films of the year? Not necessarily. I can appreciate the artistry of most of these award winners and get why they won, however often they aren’t films I would care to watch multiple times. So, here is my personal list of my favorite films that came out in 2021.
11. Malcolm & Marie
A filmmaker on the brink of Hollywood glory and his girlfriend, whose story made his career, find themselves pushed towards a reckoning as a single tumultuous night decides the fate of their relationship.
Initial Release: January 29, 2021
Director: Sam Levinson
Starring: Zendaya; John David Washington
Romance/Drama ‧ 1h 45m
Available on Netflix
Why I liked it? I loved that it was shot in black & white because it really puts the focus on the actors. And really, that’s what this film is about, the actors. It’s a two person film, which you don’t see a lot of, and it’s an amazing opportunity just to watch two actors bounce off of each other – action & reaction – pinch & ouch. I liked the film for the acting.
10. The Tender Bar
Set in 1970s Long Island, 9-year-old J. R. Maguire and his mother Dorothy move back in with his grandparents following her breakup with his father. There, he forms a bond with his Uncle Charlie, the owner of a local bar. Charlie acts as a surrogate father to J. R. and encourages him in his pursuit of becoming a successful writer. Charlie’s mother is determined that he will go to Yale or Harvard and become a lawyer.
Release date: December 17, 2021 (USA)
Director: George Clooney
Starring: Ben Affleck; Tye Sheridan; Lily Rabe; Christopher Lloyd; Daniel Ranieri
Drama/Coming-of-age Story ‧ 1h 46m
Available on Amazon Prime
Why I liked it? Ben Affleck does a wonderful job in this film. I nominated him for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Uncle Charlie. I think the directing by George Clooney is wonderful in the moments he creates and the tone that he sets. There’s nothing new about this film, but it made me feel good.
Zola, a Detroit waitress, is seduced into a weekend of stripping in Florida for some quick cash — but the trip becomes a sleepless 48-hour odyssey involving a nefarious friend, her pimp and her idiot boyfriend.
Release date: June 30, 2021 (USA)
Director: Janicza Bravo
Starring: Taylour Paige; Riley Keough; Nicholas Braun; Ari’el Stachel; Colman Domingo
Crime/Dark Comedy ‧ 1h 27m
Available on Video On Demand
Why I liked it? It’s a very original, crazy story. You really have no idea where the story is going to go. Riley Keough does a fantastic job as the stripper bringing Zola into this crazy world and Colman Domingo is a fantastic bad guy.
8. Spider-Man: No Way Home
With Spider-Man’s identity now revealed, our friendly neighborhood web-slinger is unmasked and no longer able to separate his normal life as Peter Parker from the high stakes of being a superhero. When Peter asks for help from Doctor Strange, the stakes become even more dangerous, forcing him to discover what it truly means to be Spider-Man.
Release date: December 17, 2021 (USA)
Director: Jon Watts
Writers: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Stan Lee (based on the Marvel comic book by)
Stars: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch
Action/Adventure/Fantasy ‧ 2h 28m
Available in theaters and on Disney+ later this year
Why I liked It? The greatest Spider-Man film made to date. And one that couldn’t have happened without the over a decade building of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And it was just incredibly fun, which is why we go to movies in the first place. It’s a film I could probably watch ten times without batting an eye.
7. The Map Of Tiny Perfect Things
The Map of Tiny Perfect Things tells the story of quick-witted teen Mark, contentedly living the same day in an endless loop whose world is turned upside-down when he meets mysterious Margaret also stuck in the time loop. Mark and Margaret form a magnetic partnership, setting out to find all the tiny things that make that one day perfect. What follows is a love story with a fantastical twist, as the two struggle to figure out how – and whether – to escape their never-ending day.
Release date: February 12, 2021 (USA)
Director: Ian Samuels
Writer: Lev Grossman
Actor: Kathryn Newton, Kyle Allen
Romance/Sci-fi ‧ 1h 39m
Available on Amazon Prime
Why I liked it? It’s a great twist on the “Groundhog Day” genre of time loop scifi. I absolutely love this genre. What really stands out about this film is the writing. The writing on this is really nice. It’s a sweet story and if you enjoy the genre you should really check it out.
6. Licorice Pizza
The story of Alana Kane and Gary Valentine growing up, running around and going through the treacherous navigation of first love in the San Fernando Valley, 1973.
Release date: November 26, 2021 (USA)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie
Drama/Comedy-drama ‧ 2h 13m
Playing In Theaters
Why I like it? Wonderful acting, wonderful writing, a compelling story. It’s really just full of everything that makes me love to watch movies. Alana Haim delivers an award deserving performance.
5. Don’t Look Up
Two low-level astronomers must go on a giant media tour to warn mankind of an approaching comet that will destroy planet Earth.
Initial release: December 5, 2021
Director: Adam McKay
Story by: Adam McKay; David Sirota
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Scott Mescudi, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep
Comedy/Disaster ‧ 2h 25m
Available on Netflix
Why I like it? I think this is one of the sharpest and on the nose satires to come out in ages. I thought it was hilarious, smart, and unexpected. The acting and the cameos are all on point. Meryl Streep is especially wonderful playing the president.
The Madrigals are an extraordinary family who live hidden in the mountains of Colombia in a charmed place called the Encanto. The magic of the Encanto has blessed every child in the family with a unique gift — every child except Mirabel. However, she soon may be the Madrigals last hope when she discovers that the magic surrounding the Encanto is now in danger.
Release date: November 24, 2021 (USA)
Directors: Byron Howard, Jared Bush
Music by: Germaine Franco
Story by: Jared Bush; Byron Howard; Charise Castro Smith; Jason Hand; Nancy Kruse; Lin-Manuel Miranda
Starring: Stephanie Beatriz, María Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Mauro Castillo, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Carolina Gaitán, Diane Guerrero, Wilmer Valderrama
Musical/Comedy ‧ 1h 39m
Available on Disney+
Why I like it? It’s not just a great animated film, it’s a great film. My daughter was excited to see it because finally Disney had a movie where the character reminded her of herself; just a regular, quirky, and brown girl. The film is actually much deeper than it originally appears. Having two little kids, I have seen the film more than any other film since Frozen 2. And I actually like it more each time. To top it off, an amazing soundtrack by Lin Manuel Miranda.
3. In The Heights
In Washington Heights, N.Y., the scent of warm coffee hangs in the air just outside of the 181st St. subway stop, where a kaleidoscope of dreams rallies a vibrant and tight-knit community. At the intersection of it all is a likable and magnetic bodega owner who hopes, imagines and sings about a better life.
Initial release: June 4, 2021
Director: Jon M. Chu
Music by: Lin-Manuel Miranda; Alex Lacamoire; Bill Sherman
Starring: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV, Jimmy Smits
Musical/Drama ‧ 2h 23m
Available On Demand
Why I like it? This musical had me smiling from the first number. I thoroughly loved the music, the story, and the way they adapted the stage musical to screen. The actor’s pleasure in doing the film shows in the production. It really is a different kind of musical than you’ve ever seen.
2. Tick Tick Boom
Based on the autobiographical musical by playwright Jonathan Larson. It’s the story of an aspiring composer in New York City who is worried he made the wrong career choice, whilst navigating the pressures of love and friendship.
Release date: November 12, 2021 (USA)
Director: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Music by: Jonathan Larson
Adapted from: Tick, Tick… Boom!
Screenplay by: Steven Levenson
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesús, Joshua Henry, Judith Light, Vanessa Hudgens
Musical/Drama ‧ 1h 55m
Available on Netflix
Why I like it? This film is incredibly moving. The film connects to anyone who is afraid they don’t have enough time left to leave their mark on the world. Andrew Garfield is fabulous as Jonathan Larson, really the perfect choice for the role, and he’s surrounded by a wonderful supporting cast.
Ruby is the only hearing member of a deaf family from Gloucester, Massachusetts. At 17, she works mornings before school to help her parents and brother keep their fishing business afloat. But in joining her high school’s choir club, Ruby finds herself drawn to both her duet partner and her latent passion for singing.
Release date: August 13, 2021 (USA)
Director: Sian Heder
Starring: Emilia Jones; Eugenio Derbez; Troy Kotsur; Ferdia Walsh-Peelo; Daniel Durant; Marlee Matlin
Screenplay by Sian Heder, Based on Famille Bélier by Victoria Bedos
Drama/Romance ‧ 1h 51m
Why I like it? This film has two of my favorite scenes from any movie in a long time. They say that great moments in acting and film are like a pearl, and the goal is to make so many pearls that you have the biggest pearl necklace possible. This film made more necklaces than any other film this year. It’s incredibly touching, funny when appropriate, and brings you into a real world that most of us would never think about.
When he’s not reviewing films or interviewing people for the Black & A Half podcast, Silas can be found in the greater metro Seattle, WA working as a real estate agent helping people buy and sell homes, or performing stand up comedy to fellow nerds. He has a wife and three children and desperately wants to learn to make the perfect homemade pizza.