While 2021 may be in the rearview mirror, the awards season is still waging on, with the March 27 Oscars ceremony still over a month away. Back in December, IndieWire revealed its annual poll of the best films of 2021. This year saw a boon in cinema offerings with the revival of the festival circuit — either shuttered or relegated to virtual affairs in 2020 — and the reopening of movie theaters. From grand, long-awaited tentpoles like “Dune” to Cannes favorites like “Annette,” “The Worst Person in the World,” “Titane,” and “Drive My Car,” and Netflix powerhouses like “The Power of the Dog,” this year’s varied list reflects the cinema and culture as it was in 2021.
With 187 critics and journalists voting on the best films and performances in this year’s survey, Jane Campion’s Western character study “The Power of the Dog” was the landslide victor by a considerable margin. It’s the second time in the history of this poll — and the second consecutive year after “Nomadland” — that a film directed by a woman topped this list. “The Power of the Dog” also topped IndieWire’s own staff list of The Best Movies of 2021.
While this list of 50 films may not match up exactly with the Oscars’ list of 37 feature nominees, there are a few telling narratives about how critics helped push certain contenders to the front of the fray. “Drive My Car,” a three-hour Japanese movie from an arthouse distributor (Janus Films), notched four Academy Award nominations, including surprise Best Picture and Best Director nominations. That film landed at No. 2 on IndieWire’s poll. Another film high on the list, “The Worst Person in the World” pulled in a surprise Best Original Screenplay nomination in addition to its expected International Feature nomination. Critics’ favorite “Flee” also made history with nominations for Documentary, International Feature, and Animated Feature, fueled by critics’ plaudits since its Sundance 2021 virtual premiere.
Still, one thing is clear: “The Power of the Dog” reigns. The film earned a whopping 12 Academy Award nominations, boosted not just by its high placement on critics’ lists across the board, but also its streaming availability on Netflix, grabbing surely more eyeballs than it would have had the challenging art film simply landed in theaters at a time like this.
Staffers from IndieWire, Variety, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and Entertainment Weekly all voted, as well as freelance and staff writers for newspapers, websites, radio, and TV from across Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Australia — as well as all over the U.S. and Canada. However, all participants were required to vote only for films that received theatrical, streaming, or VOD releases in the U.S. over the past calendar year.
Check out the complete list of the IndieWire Critics Poll top 50 films of 2021 below.