Ten best films of 2021



Film Critic Hunter Friesen reviews the best movies of the past year.


In the movie world, 2021 was a year to be thankful for what we have because sometimes you never know how much you appreciate something until you’ve lost it. This year brought back a slight return to normalcy, with theaters reopening and new films of all shapes and sizes demanding your attention. And while not everything that came out this year was a slam dunk, there are some truly incredible films that deserve some special praise. 

So, after seeing nearly one-hundred new films in 2021, here are the ten best in my eyes. Some of these films I expected to be on this list, while others came out of left field. It goes to show that you can experience something truly incredible if you dig a little deeper. 

There’s also the bonus of a few honorable mentions, as well as a little revenge I get by naming the five worst films of the year.

Worst Films of the Year

The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Red Notice

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Cry Macho

Army of the Dead

Best Film Honorable Mentions

The Dig

Licorice Pizza

A Hero


The Tragedy of Macbeth

10. Pig

I’m as surprised as you are that a Nicolas Cage film appears on this list. But “Pig” is something special, a film that truly subverted my expectations. Along with Cage’s outstanding performance, equal credit should go to first-time feature writer/director Michael Sarnoski for taking the film down a different path. It only makes sense that in the year 2021, the best film about regret and grief would also be about the search for a lost truffle pig. 

9. The Worst Person in the World

Norway’s “The Worst Person in the World” packs a richly emotional story fitting to its title. With a killer soundtrack and an amazing performance from Renate Reinsve, writer/director Joachim Trier is able to balance tone and time to deliver something equal to more than the sum of its parts. A perfect piece for anyone dealing with the crisis of not knowing where they are in life.

8. The Power of the Dog

Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” is one of the most violent films of the year – and of the Western genre – all without featuring a gun, knife, or fistfight. Instead, the violence that the film harbors is purely emotional and under the surface, carrying far more damaging effects than any external wound. And with a career-best Benedict Cumberbatch and a surprise turn by Kodi Smit-McPhee, it makes this film the equivalent of fine wine, as it’s near-perfect at the moment, and will only get better with age.

7. Swan Song

Can a clone – even the most perfect one imaginable – seamlessly take the place of a human? And is it better to lie to your loved ones to protect them from grief than to leave them with the ugly truth? These are the weighty questions at hand in Benjamin Cleary’s film, which features Mahershala Ali in dual roles. It’s a slow burn with a lot going on behind the scenes. It buries itself in your head while watching as you wrestle with it in the moment and continue to interact with it long after it’s over. 

6. The Father

Like “Schindler’s List” and “Requiem for a Dream,” “The Father” is a superb film that you will only want to watch once. Its subject matter may hit too close to home for some viewers, or be an introduction for others. No matter your familiarity, the film’s take on dementia and the toll it places on everyone involved is so incredibly well done that it demands to be seen. 

5. Judas and the Black Messiah

Debuting all the way back in January, this is an all-powerful work from director Shaka King and the two leads of Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield (both Oscar-nominated, with the former winning). It’s both historical and timely, with the tragically short life story of Fred Hampton delivered with spine-chilling moments that educate and entertain. 

4. The Last Duel

Bolstered by spectacle and substance, Ridley Scott’s (who also had “House of Gucci” this year) medieval tale of betrayal is one of his finest films. It was one of the few films to exceed my already lofty expectations, and one of the few blockbusters of the modern age to be propelled by collaborative artistry, rather than preconceived properties and overblown budgets.

3. Annette

From the visionary minds of The Sparks Brothers and director Leos Carax comes a rock musical of pure boldness. Stars Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard grab onto that boldness and run with it, creating several musical numbers that need to be seen to be believed. With Carax’s output being irregular, each of his features is something to treasure, especially when they’re this good. 

2. West Side Story

With The Great Musical War of 2021 coming to a close, Steven Spielberg has emerged as the predictable winner. Perfectly melding the work of Bernstein and Sondheim with the newfound talents of Ariana DeBose, Mike Faist, and Rachel Zegler, this new “West Side Story” makes the case for why some remakes should be allowed to happen. Because sometimes, they can meet (or surpass) the original, such as how this one does by bringing classic cinema into the modern world.

1. The French Dispatch

A visual masterpiece bursting at the seams with talent both on and off the screen, “The French Dispatch” is a film by a filmmaker working at the absolute height of their powers. And while I’m not a proponent of rewatching films, I’ve seen this specific one three times in as many months, and will surely be watching it on a regular basis for the foreseeable future. 

I worry about how Wes Anderson will be able to top this with his next film (which is due this year). But until then, I’ll stay in the present and be thankful that something this magical is allowed to exist in a world that only seems to get bleaker.