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    The Best Movies We Watched In 2021

    It was a banner year for truffle pigs, wooden marionette children, and crying to Joni Mitchell.

    We hope you love the shows and movies we recommend! Just so you know, BuzzFeed may collect a share of revenue or other compensation from the links on this page. Oh, and FYI: Platform, prices, and other availability details are accurate as of time of posting.

    1. Annette

    ANNETTE, Adam Driver, 2021
    Amazon Studios / Courtesy Everett Collection

    You can thank me for the creation of this musical, since apparently we're living in a world where all of my wildest dreams come true and Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard get to star alongside each other in an experimental opera. You're welcome! Driver plays Henry, a terrifying male comedian, and Cotillard his wife, Anne, a renowned opera singer. But when Anne gives birth to their daughter Annette, who has a remarkable gift, their domestic life begins to strain. The twist? Annette is played by a wooden marionette. Between the extremely present (but very well-maneuvered) puppet, an unpredictable script, and the sweet, eerie lamentations of Driver singing for over two hours, this is one of the strangest movies I have ever seen, and I MUST recommend that you watch it. —Rachel Dunkel

    Watch it on Prime Video.

    2. Bad Trip

    BAD TRIP, from left: Eric Andre, Lil Rel Howery, 2020
    Orion Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Part rom-com, part Jackass-style prank show, Bad Trip is one of the most innovative movies of the last year. And that should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the hyper-absurdist mind of Eric André. Chris (André) decides to head to New York to win over his high school sweetheart, dragging along his best friend. The simple, formulaic plot allows for André to wreak havoc on unsuspecting bystanders, including staging an elaborate musical number at the mall and a gorilla encounter gone wrong at the zoo. And his delight in pushing boundaries and getting reactions creates some of the funniest moments you’ll see on screen this year. —Blake Harper

    Watch it on Netflix

    3. Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar

    BARB AND STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR, (aka BARB & STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR), front, from left: Annie Mumolo, Jamie Dornan, Kristen Wiig, 2021
    Lionsgate / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Barb and Star feels like a movie that belongs to a bygone era and I mean that in the best way possible. The extremely silly buddy adventure would fit right in during the era of studio comedies, as Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo (who co-wrote and co-star in the film) have one goal: to make you laugh as much as possible. And they absolutely succeed, as Barb and Star is easily one of the funniest movies of the last five years. Hopefully, Barb and Star’s hysterical antics inspire a new wave of comedy films because it is a genre that is sorely missed in the landscape of modern cinema. —Blake Harper

    Watch it on Hulu.

    4. Bergman Island

    BERGMAN ISLAND, from left: Vicky Krieps, Tim Roth, 2021
    IFC Films / Courtesy Everett Collection

    It turns out that what I needed most, spiritually, out of the movies this winter was to be whisked off to a quiet Swedish island with a writer-blocked filmmaker, Chris (Vicky Krieps), and her partner (Tim Roth). In Mia Hansen-Løve's latest, what begins as one of her signature tone poems — set against the iconic (now tourism-oriented) home of auteur Ingmar Bergman — unexpectedly takes the shape of a meta-layered love story, with the director choosing to ditch a linear structure to play out one of Chris's screenplays while she workshops it with her partner. At its center, is a younger, semi-fictionalized version of herself (played by the always entrancing Mia Wasikowska) as she experiences first love and heartbreak. As dizzying and Certified Copy-esque as this may all sound, the film manages the impossible and somehow not only gracefully lands on its feet by the end but fully coheres into an effective (and not at all annoying!) love letter to the enduring power of cinema. —Colin Gorenstein 

    Rent it on Prime Video

    5. Billie Eilish: The World's A Little Blurry

    Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell in “Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry,” now streaming on Apple TV+.
    Apple TV+

    It's been a bountiful year for music docs (just look at this year's music-heavy Oscar documentary shortlist) but the one that has stuck with me the most is RJ Cutler's Apple TV+ sleeper hit Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry. This savvily edited doc works best as a study of Gen Z, rather than as an examination of the inner-life of a successful pop star (a sub-genre that many, including myself, have an allergy to). Sure, the doc does spend a considerable amount of time chasing the question of what it means to be pushed into the public eye at such a young age and become a subject of both scorn and admiration, but where the doc finds real lift off is in its generational portrait of what it means to be a teen today, saddled with the existential uncertainty of our current political climate. There hasn't been nearly enough praise (or, certainly not on the level of Get Back, anyway) for the fly-on-the-wall footage captured here of Eilish and her brother Finneas workshopping in their bedroom studio, but the 2021 highlight I keep coming back to from this doc is the moving, almost literary, full-circle encounter Eilish has with childhood hero Justin Bieber — a scene that both perfectly distills the symbiotic fan-artist relationship and the Gen Z coming-of-age experience. —Colin Gorenstein

    Watch it on Apple TV+.

    6. C'mon C'mon

    C'MON C'MON, from left: Gaby Hoffmann, Joaquin Phoenix, 2021
    A24 /Courtesy Everett Collection

    Hmm...a contemporary black-and-white film about public radio that hinges on the performance of a precocious child actor. Is this my hell? Somehow not! And this, my friends, is the sneakiness of Mike Mills's filmmaking. Despite an acute awareness that you are being manipulated by precious dialogue, quirky montages, and black-and-white stylings, you still can't help but fall for the warm characters that inhabit his worlds. In C'mon C'mon it's Joaquin Phoenix, the radio journalist uncle who steps in to take care of his brainy nephew (first-time actor Woody Norman) when his sister (Gaby Hoffmann; my pick for this year's Best Supporting Actress) must tend to an emergency in the family. These are people you wish you were surrounded by in your own life, and I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a bit of envy at play watching these characters in action. I challenge you to watch Hoffmann's scenes and not reflect on your own heart-to-hearts with your parents growing up. How nice would it be to have someone as radically open as Hoffmann lending a patient ear to your silly ramblings? —Colin Gorenstein

    Rent it on Prime Video.

    7. CODA

    CODA, Emilia Jones, 2021.
    Apple TV+ / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Written and directed by Siân Heder, CODA, which stands for "child of deaf adults," is about just that: a hearing teenager navigating the world with a deaf family. Ruby (Emilia Jones) is the youngest and only hearing member of the Rossi family. She works with her brother and father (played to perfection by real-life deaf actor Troy Kotsur) on their fishing boat, and also serves as an interpreter between her all-signing family and the hearing community in her hometown of Gloucester, Massachusetts. Look, we’ve all seen the shy-girl-joins-the-choir-and-finds-herself-film at least a couple of times, and admittedly CODA isn't that interested in subverting this trope, but the familiarity of that particular plot point allows its moving exploration of family, sacrifice, and cultural difference to take center stage. If the raw, cutting humor and emotional moments in this movie aren’t reason enough to give CODA a try, maybe the fact that it took home top honors at Sundance last February, including the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award, and both Emilia Jones and Troy Kotsur won Gotham Awards for their performances (which bodes well for its chances of securing Oscar acting nominations and making history) will convince you. —Danica Creahan

    Watch it on Apple TV+.

    8. Don't Look Up

    DON'T LOOK UP, from left: Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, Timothee Chalamet, 2021
    Niko Tavernise / Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Jennifer Lawrence is back, baby! Adam McKay's latest is, you guessed it, a scathing commentary on modern politics and popular culture, and once again, it works. It stars Leonardo Dicaprio as naive-astronomer-turned-viral-celebrity Dr. Mindy and J Law as doctoral-candidate-turned-meme Kate Dibiasky, who first discover that a comet is headed towards earth with extinction-level consequences and subsequently learn the lengths people will go to politicize, monetize, and ignore it. Meryl Streep supports as the wiley, foolish and — let's say it — hot President of the United States to great effect, with Jonah Hill as her son slash secretary of state. Despite being as painfully on the nose as a passed basketball you fail to catch, a wonderful cast, quick writing, and constant action combine to make it a decidedly fun watch. Did I leave the theater more worried than ever about climate change? Yes! I feel terrible. But I suppose that's the point. —Rachel Dunkel 

    Watch it on Netflix

    9. Drive My Car

    DRIVE MY CAR, (aka DORAIBU MAI KA), from left: Masaki Okada, Hidetoshi Nishijima, 2021
    Janus Films / Courtesy Everett Collection

    In a year of Get Back and McCartney 3,2,1 you'd be forgiven for assuming from its title that this was yet another critically acclaimed Beatles entry. To the contrary, Ryusuke Hamaguchi's Drive My Car is a gentle, nearly three-hour-long Japanese film adapted from a Haruki Murakami short story about a theater director, Yūsuke (Hidetoshi Nishijima), and the unlikely bond that forms between him and his personal driver following the death of his wife. This movie absolutely does not need my signal boosting — it's already picked up Best Picture wins from both the New York and LA Film Critics Circles — but it still bears repeating, that this beautiful meditation on healing and art is well worth your time. If you're like me, you'll find that this is exactly what the doctor ordered to quiet your brain down for a few hours. I have high hopes that this one will be represented not just in the International Feature category at the Oscars this year, but also Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture as well. —Colin Gorenstein

    Buy tickets

    10. Dune

    DUNE, Timothee Chalamet, 2021
    Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Let me first say that I was not a Dune fan before seeing the 2021 film adaptation, but since convincing myself to see it despite not being a sci-fi fan generally, I have chanted “DUNE, DUNE, DUNE” at least once a day simply remembering the blessed experience of viewing it in the theater. The story, which is ultimately a sweeping political drama, is great, but what brings the movie home are the technical feats: spaceships and planets and even giant worms all rendered with such verisimilitude you can’t help but believe for a moment that they’re real, organic things, and seat-shaking sound that, I’d put good money on winning an Oscar soon enough. Lil’ Timmy Chalamet gave it his all in this one, and continues to convince me that maybe he’s just as great as we collectively believe, and Oscar Isaac delivers another stunning performance that gives me big, stupid heart eyes every time he’s onscreen. I am desperately looking forward to the next installment where we are promised more than seven minutes of Zendaya and someone riding the damn worm. Heaven. —Rachel Dunkel

    Rent it on Prime Video

    11. Flee

    FLEE, Amin (right), 2021
    Neon / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Flee would be a remarkable story no matter how it was told. A gay man on the verge of his wedding tells his life story for the first time, and its a doozie. Born in Afghanistan, he and his family flee the country as it crumbled into war. He escapes the fighting only to become stranded in Russia before moving to Denmark completely alone, his family members disappearing one by one along the way. What makes this documentary one-of-a-kind though is its use of animation. The pseudonymous storyteller "Amin" requested his anonymity, and so filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen decided to create a documentary not of live-action shots but in stylized animated graphics that bend and flow with the narrative. As a result, this could very well be the first film to ever snag Best Animated, Best Documentary, and Best International Feature Oscar nominations all at once. —Matthew Huff

    Buy tickets.

    12. The Green Knight

    THE GREEN KNIGHT, Dev Patel as Gawain, 2021. ph: Eric Zachanowich
    A24 / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Based on a 14th century poem, this fantastical film tells the story of Sir Gaiwan (Dev Patel) and his journey toward knighthood. After striking a deal with the titular Green Knight, Gaiwan must travel to the Green Chapel to face whatever ending awaits him. The film is as strange as you would expect an A24 adaptation of a medieval story to be, offering a modern perspective on the classic story while still staying true to the source material. The ambiguous ending offers up questions about duty and honor and thanks to Patel’s compelling performance, you will likely find yourself dwelling on the fate of Gaiwan long after the end credits roll. —Blake Harper

    Rent it on Prime Video

    13. The Hand of God

    THE HAND OF GOD, (aka E STATA LA MANO DI DIO), Filippo Scotti, 2021
    Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

    It's hard to capture what it's like to grow up; the hodge podge of tiny moments that create a person and lead them to where they ought to be. And often in the looking back we tend to tidy up the journey, edit out the ephemera and missteps into something clean and concise (because that is how we are taught to tell a story). In his new semi-autobiographical film, Oscar winner Paolo Sorrentino retraces his steps as an aimless teen in Naples through a series of interlocking vignettes. His family, his sexual awakening, the loss of his parents, his discovery of filmmaking. He plots points on a map, both the profound and insignificant, in a way that mimics the meandering of life while coalescing into something painstakingly purposeful. The Italian submission for Best International Feature at the Oscars (and now a shortlist contender), the film depicts the wandering of youth in all its pain, pleasure, absurdity, and importance. It also depicts a woman in a fur coat gobbling down a giant hunk of mozzarella, so a little something for everyone. —Matthew Huff 

    Watch it on Netflix.

    14. The Harder They Fall

    THE HARDER THEY FALL, from left: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Danielle Deadwyler, Edi Gathegi, RJ Cyler, 2021.
    Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Who would’ve thought one of the most memorable films of this year would be a Western? (Not me.) The film gives Western fans what they love to see: rival cowboy gangs, gun slinging, revenge vendetta, etc. And, the twist? All the principal characters are Black. With diversity and representation in film continuously being challenged, The Harder They Fall “understood the assignment” with lots of melanin on both sides of the camera. And while the story itself is fictional, the characters were real people. With incredible performances from an all-star cast (Idris Elba, Regina King, Jonathan Majors, Delroy Lindo, LaKieth Stanfield), nods to Chadwick Boseman and Malcom X, and the inclusion of actual Black cowboys, this film hits the mark. —Kit Stone

    Watch it on Netflix

    15. I'm Your Man

    I'M YOUR MAN, (aka I AM YOUR MAN, aka ICH BIN DEIN MENSCH), from left: Dan Stevens, Maren Eggert, 2021.
    Bleecker Street Media / Courtesy Everett Collection

    “That’s not a man… that’s a robot!” BuzzFeed Editors Rachel Dunkel and Colin Gorenstein repeated gleefully, the tops of their heads peeking over a laptop screen that was playing a trailer for the German sci-fi romantic-comedy film I’m Your Man. It was agreed, we had to see this movie. So we trudged through the rain to make it to the theater on time — and I’m Your Man was worth every soggy step. Dr. Alma Felser, played impeccably by Maren Eggert, begrudgingly agrees to participate in an experiment where she’s required to live with a humanoid robot tailored precisely to her personality and needs, played excellently by Dan Stevens, for three weeks. She does this *only* to obtain funding for her own archeological research, and goes in with total disbelief toward the idea that she could fall in love with an algorithm — but, truth be told, she’s not fully prepared for the bizarre weeks ahead. Eggert and Stevens are perfectly matched with sublime results in this very funny, smart, and affecting film from the exceptional writer-producer-director Maria Schrader. Sharp writing, a polished visual style, effective score, and fantastic chemistry between its two leads allow the film’s thought-provoking concept to take a deep dive into humanity and love while offering a healthy supply of laugh-out-loud moments. To best enjoy it is to succumb to its charms and let it lead you seamlessly between the familiar and the unexpected. And now that it’s streaming, you likely won’t have to trudge through the rain to see it like we did. But I stand by that it would still be worth it. —Jonathan Mazzei

    Rent it on Prime Video.

    16. Licorice Pizza

    LICORICE PIZZA, from left: Cooper Hoffman, Alana Haim, 2021
    Melinda Sue Gordon / MGM / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Easily the most fun I had at the movies this year, and the only title on this list that made me run to Ticketmaster to purchase Madison Square Garden concert tickets. I'm, of course, talking about Paul Thomas Anderson's Licorice Pizza and its delightful lead performance from Alana Haim of the currently touring band, Haim. I went into this one expecting something on par with Inherent Vice, my least favorite PTA in recent memory, and what I got instead was something much more memorable, a film packed with so many little perfect moments I wanted to preserve in amber. Harriet Sansom Harris turned in what I thought was the most brilliant comedic performance of the year as Mary Grady, a child talent agent without a filter (Bradley Cooper's Jon Peters would also be up there for me), while the Paul McCartney "Let Me Roll It" sequence was my favorite musical moment at the movies this year. I also wouldn't hesitate to say Haim's performance here is my new favorite musician-turned-actor performance of this century. I've said it before and I'll say it again: She didn't fumble it when she came down to the wire! —Colin Gorenstein

    Buy tickets.

    17. The Lost Daughter

    THE LOST DAUGHTER, from left: Dakota Johnson, Olivia Colman
    Yannis Drakoulidis / Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

    The least surprising thing I stanned this year was Maggie Gyllenhaal's directorial debut, an adaptation of literary GOAT Elena Ferrante's The Lost Daughter. I was convinced KStew had it in the bag with her skillful Diana recreation until seeing Olivia Colman's gut punch of a performance here as Leda, a college professor on vacation in Italy who is haunted by her past conduct as a wife and mother. The film features a murderers' row of supporting talent, including Jessie Buckley (who is certain to get most of the awards attention in supporting) as the young "unnatural mother" Leda in flashbacks, Dakota Johnson as the tired, straight-shooting mom Leda encounters on the beach, and Paul Mescal as the flirty bartender who gets entangled in all the visitors' lives with his sparkly blue eyes. Maybe my favorite thing about this film is the fact that everyone looks at Olivia Colman (for, cough, most of the film anyway) with the utmost reverence, which is a perfect mirror for how I imagine all of us viewers looked (or will look) at this master while performing at the top of her game. —Colin Gorenstein

    Watch it on Netflix

    18. Luca

    LUCA, from left: Luca Paguro (voice: Jacob Tremblay), Alberto Scorfano (voice: Jack Dylan Grazer), 2021.
    Disney + / Courtesy Everett Collection

    If you’re looking for a film to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, reignite that burning desire to drop everything and travel around the Italian Riviera, or just generally fill you with awe, Luca is it. This animated absolute joy of a film follows Luca, a young sea monster who, in true Disney form, dreams of being up where they walk, up where they run, up where they stay all day in the sun. Unlike his mermaid predecessor though, Luca needs only to hop out of the water and dry off a bit to achieve his goal and transform into a human boy. This is how Luca meets his new best friend and fellow sea monster who prefers to hang out on land, Alberto. Despite the high stakes sense you’ll get watching two sea monsters explore a town with a long history of hunting sea monsters, most of the film is motivated by the boys’ simple desire to acquire a Vespa and see the world (nobody told them the planet is 71% water I guess). This movie is all the best parts of a Pixar film without too much drama (I’m looking at you, Toy Story 3) and plenty of captivating imagery and comforting composition to keep you cozily engaged. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably cry at this one, and it'll be worth it. —Danica Creahan

    Watch it on Disney+.

    19. Old

    OLD, from left: Vicky Krieps, Thomasin McKenzie, Gael Garcia Bernal, Luca Faustino Rodriguez, 2021.
    Phobymo / Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

    I am a firm believer that a movie doesn’t have to be “good” to be great, and M. Night Shyamalan’s 2021 swing Old proves my point exactly. Stilted dialogue, strained plot points, and an already bananas concept — in case you escaped the trailer, the characters end up on a beach that makes them, rapidly and aptly, old — should ensure the work is a flop, but if I’m being honest, I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun watching a movie. Somehow, the pieces of this very odd puzzle perfectly click to create a popcorn movie I can’t help but recommend. As a lover of medium-budget films based on no or little-known IP, it was a thrill to see a story I had never come across before (though based on the graphic novel Sandcastle) told in a way that kept me asking questions, even if that question was “What was the thought process here?” or “How did this happen?” Watching Old is an exercise in suspending your disbelief, and during 2021, that was a welcome exercise, indeed. —Rachel Dunkel 

    Rent it on Prime Video.

    20. Passing

    PASSING, from left: Ruth Negga, Tessa Thompson, 2021
    Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

    It’s not often that a film completely captivates me within the first 10 minutes. I don’t even remember blinking after pushing play on Passing. Set in the '20s, the story follows the lives of two Black women reuniting after being childhood friends. Irene “Renie” Redfield (Tessa Thompson), a light-skinned black woman aware of the privilege that her fair skin affords her, navigates through Manhattan stores in a wide brim hat to hide her features. She goes to a nearby lounge to escape the heat and is recognized by her old friend Clare Bellew (Ruth Negga). But, Clare is not the same person Irene once knew. Clare, also having recognized the luxury that comes with fair skin, has chosen to pass as a white woman. Beautifully shot in black and white, with a stillness that adds a layer of tension to the film, this directorial debut from Rebecca Hall is breathtaking and thought provoking. Adapted from Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel of the same name, Passing is told through the lens of the Black perspective and is less a story about what one can gain and more about what one can lose in denying who they truly are. —Kit Stone

    Watch it on Netflix

    21. Pig

    PIG, Nicolas Cage, 2021. ph: David Reamer
    Neon / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Not since the days of Babe has a movie about a pig made me cry but damnit, I’d be lying if I said that Nicolas Cage’s love for his pig and best pal didn’t bring tears to my eyes. At first, it feels like Pig is going to be a pig-inspired iteration of Taken or John Wick, as Rob (Cage) reluctantly re-enters society after his truffle pig is kidnapped. However, Pig takes a few unexpected turns along the way, putting the revenge storyline on the backburner to focus more on Rob’s emotional journey and why he chose to isolate himself in the first place. The result is a reminder that Cage remains one of the best actors around when he wants to be and his performance anchors one of the year’s most heartfelt and moving films. —Blake Harper

    Watch it on Hulu.

    22. The Power of the Dog

    THE POWER OF THE DOG, from left: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kodi Smit-McPhee, 2021.
    Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Whip out your origami flowers, monogrammed handkerchiefs, and old piano because it would appear that celebrations are nearing for this western. The first Jane Campion film in over a decade is riding high into the Oscar race with a bevy of nominations and wins (Golden Globes, Critics Choice, New York Film Critics) in its saddle bag. A portrait of toxic masculinity, a revenge thriller, and a dusty wild west mystery all at once, The Power of the Dog is a collection of beautiful things woven together (erotically and of cow hide no less). The grand vistas are stunning, the script is dialed to perfection, and the Johnny Greenwood score is exquisite, and the acting. OH THE ACTING. Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, and Kodi Smit-McPhee could all be classified as frontrunners in the categories and Jesse Plemons (while not as flashy) provides a solid core the others build from. I would castrate several bulls, bathe in mud, and microdose anthrax just to watch this film again. —Matthew Huff

    Watch it on Netflix

    23. Shiva Baby

    SHIVA BABY, Rachel Sennott, 2020
    Utopia / Courtesy Everett Collection

    As Danielle (Rachel Sennott) heads to a shiva observance, she has no idea that the sugar daddy she has been sleeping with will be there with his wife and their child. As she tries to keep her cool, she also has to deal with her overbearing parents, questions about her future from relatives and family friends she barely knows, and her more successful ex-girlfriend. Sennott delivers an incredible performance, as she allows the viewer to remain sympathetic to Danielle even as she makes a never-ending series of questionable decisions. Along with Sennott’s acting, one of Shiva Baby’s biggest strengths is its length, as the 78-minute runtime allows the atmosphere to remain unbearably tense as you feel Danielle’s anxiety grow with every conversation with whoever she happens to cross paths with. —Blake Harper

    Watch it on HBO Max.

    24. Spencer

    Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana, 2021
    Neon / Courtesy Everett Collection

    What do Princess Diana and I have in common? We both love KFC, revel in a moody outfit change, and are horrified at the thought of being weighed in front of our extended family. All three of these insights come to light in Pablo Larrain's Jackie follow-up starring Oscar-worthy Kristen Stewart as the Princess of Wales. In this so-called "fable," Larrain imagines what the final Christmas before Charles and Diana's divorce might have looked like: the royal claustrophobia pressing in and the breaking point looming. Bedecked in magnificent Jacqueline Durran costumes, Stewart turns in a mesmerizing performance that somehow embodies both the actress and the princess at once. My favorite film of the year and perhaps the best soup-eating scene ever caught on camera. —Matthew Huff

    Rent it on Prime Video.

    25. Spider-Man: No Way Home

    SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME, from left: Zendaya, Tom Holland as Spider-Man, 2021
    Sony Pictures Releasing / Marvel Entertainment / Courtesy Everett Collection

    As a massive Marvel fan, this movie was everything I could've hoped for and more. And not only was it satisfying for generations of Spider-Man fans, but it was the perfect third movie for Tom Holland's Peter Parker. This is a character that means so much to so many people and bringing back the iconic villains from previous Spider-Man films was simply astounding. It was also amazing to see how much Holland has grown as an actor between these three films. This one was so emotional and heartbreaking, and Tom brought his A-game to every single scene. I definitely think it's one of the best comic book movies in recent years as it was able to balance the epic stunts with small moments filled with heart. I loved every second of it. —Nora Dominick

    Buy tickets.

    26. Tick, Tick...Boom!

    TICK, TICK...BOOM!, Andrew Garfield, 2021
    Macall Polay / Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Being that this was the official year of "30s anxiety" (Bo Burnham, Adele, and yours truly have all been talking about it a lot), it seems only fitting that one of the buzziest cinematic musicals opens with a song lamenting the loss of your 20s. Andrew Garfield stars in Lin-Manuel Miranda's directorial debut, a semi-autobiographical musical about Jonathan Larson, the playwright of Rent who died tragically young. The film follows Larson (Garfield) and his friends as they struggle to to live life (bo, bo, bo, bo, bo) and make art as the AIDS crisis ravages New York City. Garfield (who learned to sing specifically for the role), Alexandra Shipp, and (dare I say it) Vanessa Hudgens all deliver wonderful performances, but it is Robin de Jesus who steals the show as Jonathan's gay bestie unraveling as the world crumbles around him. An LGBTQ+ Oscar-worthy musical that will leave you humming "Louder Than Words" until Memorial Day? Johnny can decide, and he says "yes." —Matthew Huff

    Watch it on Netflix

    27. The Velvet Underground

    Moe Tucker, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Lou Reed from archival photography from “The Velvet Underground"
    Apple TV+

    This documentary manages to be just about as idiosyncratic, arty, meditative, cacophonous, mysterious, and exciting as the legendary band it’s about. Rather than fall into the typical rock doc trappings of endless talking heads and a greatest hits soundtrack, this film spends more time unearthing a treasure trove of archival footage, home movies, and Andy Warhol’s 16mm films to paint a visually stunning picture of the '60s New York art scene and remind viewers why the VU was such a riveting act both live and in the studio, thanks to blistering live cuts and alternate takes of some of their most essential songs. The interviews that visionary director Todd Haynes did decide to include are just as illuminating, particularly those with former Velvets John Cale and Maureen Tucker, who offer up perspectives on their own work and relationships with ex-bandmates Lou Reed and Nico, as well as Warhol, Allen Ginsberg and other important figures from the era. We also hear from other artists who’d been around the band at the time, like drone icon La Monte Young, who sheds some light on the VU’s experimental side, and human ray of sunshine Jonathan Richman — who apparently brought his own guitar to the interview unprompted, leading to one of the most fascinating discussions of all time with the influential songwriter who talks about the huge impact the Velvets had on his music and how they took him under their wing early on in his career. Viewers hoping for a straight-ahead documentary might balk at the lengthy runtime and psychedelic tangents, but both casual fans and die-hards looking for something that captures the spirit of the acclaimed avant-garde band won’t be disappointed by this artful examination. —Jonathan Mazzei

    Watch it on Apple TV+.

    28. West Side Story

    WEST SIDE STORY, from left: Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, 2021
    Niko Tavernise / 20th Century Studios / Courtesy Everett Collection

    West Side Story’s newest Maria, Rachel Zegler, may have just made the best film debut in history. Zegler was only 18 when she shot the role and has such a natural grace and confidence on screen you can’t help but wonder where she’ll go next (Shazam 2: Fury of the Gods, and Disney’s live-action Snow White). But Zegler is not the only stand-out. Anita (Ariana DeBose), Riff (Mike Faist), and the new character Valentina, a Puerto Rico widow, played by 1961’s Anita, Rita Moreno round out a pitch-perfect ensemble. While they are all individually racking up award nominations, together they are movie magic. Helmed by director Steven Spielberg, this updated version fixes the problems of the original film, most notably Latinx characters played by Latinx actors, while remembering and highlighting what the audience loves so much about the original. In addition, Tony Kushner’s updated script grounds the story in history, giving context for why the Sharks and the Jets are fighting each other in the first place; it also provides a compelling new back story for Tony (Ansel Elgort) and true agency for Maria. Staying true to the original are the fabulous costumes and soaring music by Leonard Bernstein and the late great Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics (although reordered) that remind so many of us why we fell in love with musicals and movies. West Side Story is the perfect blend of classic and new. —Dana Elle Salzberg

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