It’s IndieWire’s now-familiar – and still very true – reframe: anyone who thinks this year (read: any year) has been bad for movies simply hasn’t seen enough of them. While the 2021 landscape looked a fair bit different than that of 2020 – for one thing, in-person festival attendance and theater-going returned, if cautiously and with plenty of new protocols – the ability to see films beyond the big screen has only continued apace. And while many might bemoan the degradation of the “movie-going experience,” no matter how you saw the best of this year’s beefy batch, it was worth it.
Look no further than our top two films, both new offerings from some of contemporary cinema’s most enduring and exciting auteurs, for proof that the delivery service is hardly as important as the art being, well, delivered. Jane Campion’s masterful, menacing “The Power of the Dog” premiered at Venice, enjoyed a limited theatrical release, and is now (right this very minute!) available to stream on Netflix. Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza” skipped a festival premiere, heading straight into limited release (with a fittingly unique strategy), before rolling out in other cities in the coming weeks. And yet both of these films are the best of the year. Go figure!
In a year filled with new films from some of our favorite filmmakers, it’s no surprise that this list of 25 titles includes work from familiar names beyond Campion and PTA, including Steven Spielberg, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Paul Schrader, Pedro Almodovar, Mia Hansen-Løve, Sean Baker, Robert Greene, Joanna Hogg, Pablo Larrain, and Joachim Trier. But what might be even more edifying than the reminder of why these people are some of our favorites, it’s the inclusion of a powerful pack of newbies, like Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Questlove, Rebecca Hall, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Shatara Michelle Ford. Many of these films are already available for viewing – both at home and in theaters, of course – and we can encourage anyone and everyone to check them out post-haste. You will not be disappointed.
Ryan Lattanzio, Jude Dry, Tambay Obenson, Christian Blauvelt, and Kristen Lopez also contributed to this list.