Top 10 Best Movies of 2021



Top 10 Best Movies of 2021

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nick Spake
These great movies defined 2021! For this list, we'll be looking at the past year's finest cinematic offerings, whether they lit up streaming services, reignited the box office, or unified audiences in their mutual love for the medium. Our countdown includes “The Matrix Resurrections”, “Spider-Man: No Way Home”, "Dune", and more!

Top 10 Best Movies of 2021

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Best Movies of 2021.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the past year’s finest cinematic offerings, whether they lit up streaming services, reignited the box office, or unified audiences in their mutual love for the medium.

What’s your favorite movie of 2021? Let us know in the comments.

#10: “The Matrix Resurrections” (2021)

It may’ve been 18 years since we were last plugged into the Matrix on the big screen, but it was worth the wait. Whether you liked the first 2 sequels or not, you’ll find something in “Resurrections” that’ll free your mind as well as make you grateful that director Lana Wachowski let us go back down the rabbit hole with Neo and Trinity. Of course, all the things you loved about the original are present: kickass action scenes, trippy sci-fi, ethical and philosophical discussions and badass characters. But there are also many nostalgia-inducing callbacks, multiple cameos, clever meta-references, plenty of humor and world-building - or should we say… world-resurrecting? Oh, and it’s even got a love story for you romantics out there! Time to fly, dude!

#9: “The Power of the Dog” (2021)

This western drama is the definition of a slow burn, but the final destination is rewarding in unexpected ways. Nothing is as it seems in Jane Campion’s film, which won her the Silver Lion at Venice. A callous rancher could be hiding his insecurity behind a stone face. A young introvert could be the most threatening person in the room. Much like the mountains in the background, sometimes you need to look a little closer. You might find a dog-shaped shadow in there. The question is whether the dog will bite or not. Kirsten Dunst gives a raw supporting performance as a woman struggling with alcoholism while Benedict Cumberbatch delivers what might be his most layered work as a man confronting his own demons.

#8: “West Side Story” (2021)

In a year full of innovative movie musicals, you wouldn’t expect another “West Side Story” to be anything mind-blowing. Of course, you should never underestimate director Steven Spielberg. Mr. Spielberg’s first musical is also among his best films of the 21st century. While time will only tell if Spielberg’s film outshines its Best Picture-winning predecessor, his version definitely elevates several aspects. In addition to the more diverse casting, characters like Tony, María, and Riff have never been more complex. The titular Upper West Side has never felt harsher or as widely inhabited. It’s still the same story and music we love. However, Spielberg, screenwriter Tony Kushner, and especially choreographer Justin Peck put a spin on every set piece, making this “West Side Story” their own.

#7: “CODA” (2021)

“CODA” is a unique family dramedy, but also a surprisingly relatable one. Emilia Jones leads a wonderful cast that includes Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur. Jones shines as Ruby, the only person in her family able to hear. Concealing a voice that could take her to Berklee, Rudy is torn between pursuing her passion and supporting her family. While not everyone can identify with Ruby’s precise situation, the internal struggle of dreams vs. responsibility is universal. “CODA” tackles these themes with heart, humor, and honesty. It also explores facets of the deaf community rarely touched upon, such as sexual activity. At its core, “CODA” is about a family learning to listen in one way or another, culminating with one of the year’s most joyous finales.

#6: “Mass” (2021)

It’s such a simple title, and yet one that works on multiple levels. Following an unspeakable tragedy, four parents meet to discuss their anguish, regrets, and unresolved conflict. Reed Birney, Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs, and Martha Plimpton round out an unparalleled ensemble with each bringing different dimensions to the phenomenon of grief. Fran Kranz’s original screenplay is a triumph of dialogue, but his intimate direction deserves just as much praise. Given its limited setting, “Mass” easily could’ve felt like a filmed version of a play. While Kranz incorporates the claustrophobia of the stage, he also delivers a cinematic touch, turning the audience into flies on the walls. The back and forth between these characters is gut-wrenching, but it’s a conversation that needs to be had.

#5: “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” (2021)

2021 was another stellar year for animation. Disney delivered a rousing adventure with “Raya and the Last Dragon” while Pixar’s “Luca” provided a heartfelt story about acceptance. The best animated feature, though, is one that thought outside the box and colored outside of the lines. While it possesses echoes of other modern classics like “Spider-Verse,” “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” is a wholly original fusion of different artistic techniques that go together flawlessly. With a style that draws the line between nostalgia and innovation, every moment pops with visual wonder and sight gags that demand a second viewing. No animated film this year made us laugh harder, but it’s the emotional connection we form with these characters that elevates “Mitchells” to masterclass status.

#4: “Belfast” (2021)

Few films released in 2021 better define the importance of cinema than “Belfast.” In some respects, movies mirror life. In other respects, they provide escapism from the hardships of life. For Buddy, a young boy living in Belfast during The Troubles, movies are life. Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story makes impeccable use of its black and white lens. The cinematography reflects our longing for the past, but also the bleaker moments that we hide behind nostalgia goggles. Movies are the one consistent bright spot, even when they aren’t in color. Caitríona Balfe and Jamie Dornan turn in career-best performances, but the ensemble’s success rests on the shoulders of newcomer Jude Hill, who at only age ten holds his own against Ciarán Hinds and Judi Dench.

#3: “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (2021)

From “Black Widow” to “Shang-Chi,” 2021 continued the reign of superheroes - or antiheroes in “The Suicide Squad’s” case. Yet, no comic book movie proved more stimulating, emotional, or ambitious than “No Way Home.” In an era where it’s becoming increasingly harder to deliver on expectations while also subverting them, “No Way Home” gives just about everything we could want. Considering the ups and downs that the “Spider-Man” series has seen over the past two decades, some may say it’s a miracle that this movie got made at all. The real miracle, though, is that the results are so damn satisfying, embracing the franchise’s roots while also looking ahead to a bold future. For any generation who grew up with Spidey, it’s the ultimate love letter.

#2: “Dune” (2021)

Whatever your thoughts on ​​David Lynch’s version are, most would agree that Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” is the cinematic adaptation we’ve been waiting for. Well, at least the beginning of it. Given the volume of its source material, Villeneuve’s decision to split “Dune” into two movies was a wise call. “Dune: Part One” still works as a standalone achievement, though, immersing its audience in a sci-fi universe that stands out from all others. While you could teach a college course about the “Dune” lore, Villeneuve primarily relies on visual storytelling with breathtaking landscapes and thought-provoking themes beneath the surface. Every cast member does their character justice, adding to the film’s distinctive personality. The word “epic” gets tossed around a lot, but “Dune” definitely fits that description.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

“Free Guy” (2021)
One of the Year’s Funniest & Most Original Comedies

“Nightmare Alley” (2021)
Guillermo del Toro + Neo-Noir = A Dream Come True

“The Harder They Fall” (2021)
The Good, The Badass, & The Ugly

“King Richard” (2021)
Quite Possibly Will Smith’s Crowning Achievement

“Spencer” (2021)
Kristen Stewart Gives Arguably the Performance of the Year

“Don’t Look Up” (2021)
A Sharp Satire That Hits Home Like a Comet Headed for Earth

#1: “Licorice Pizza” (2021)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest tour de force possesses the vintage vibes of “Boogie Nights” and unconventional romance of “Punch-Drunk Love.” “Licorice Pizza” by no means lives in the shadow of his previous works, however. The film tastes every bit as unique as its title suggests, balancing absurd humor, a nostalgic aesthetic, and a love story that keeps us invested with every step. Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman play two sides of the same coin, exploring the spontaneity of youth, the uncertainty of adulthood, and the curveballs that apply to all ages. Even when they’re simply hanging out, there’s an authenticity to “Licorice Pizza” that we can only describe as magical. Wherever you’d rank it in Anderson’s filmography, this is by far his most uplifting picture.