11 Best Movies & Shows Released in 2021 On Netflix

Staff & contributors
Find the best movies and show to watch from the year 2021. These handpicked recommendations are highly-rated by viewers and critics.

Difficult but essential viewing, Procession tracks the progress of six men undergoing art therapy—specifically, by creating short filmed scenes to process their trauma from being sexually abused by Catholic priests. The resulting films we get to see are wildly varied in the emotions they express, forming a rich and powerful tapestry of the effects abuse can leave on individuals. And to see these men confront the worst events of their lives through filmmaking begins to feel like validation for filmmaking itself, that it can truly be an art form that changes and saves lives. But even more striking, somehow, is the unbreakable bond that forms among these survivors throughout this entire process, captured with reverence and overflowing compassion by director Robert Greene.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Robert Greene

The Hand of God is the autobiographical movie from Paolo Sarrantino, the director of the 2013 masterpiece The Great Beauty. He recently also directed The Young Pope with Jude Law and Youth Paul Dano, both in English. He is back to his home Italy with this one. 

More precisely, he’s in his hometown Naples, in the 1980s, where awkward teenager Fabietto Schisa’s life is about to change: his city’s soccer team Napoli is buying the biggest footballer at the time, Diego Maradona.

Sarrantino, who is also from Naples, made this movie that is half a tribute to the city and half to what it meant growing up around the legend of Maradona.

The Hand of God is to Sarrantino what Roma was to Alfonso Cuarón, except it’s more vulgar, fun, and excessive. It is equally as personal though, and it goes from comedy to tragedy and back with unmatched ease.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alessandro Bressanello, Betti Pedrazzi, Birte Berg, Cristiana Dell'Anna, Daniele Vicorito, Dora Romano, Enzo De Caro, Filippo Scotti, Lino Musella, Luisa Ranieri, Marina Viro, Massimiliano Gallo, Monica Nappo, Renato Carpentieri, Sofya Gershevich, Teresa Saponangelo, Toni Servillo

Director: Paolo Sorrentino

All the synopses going around the internet won’t fail to let you know that The Falls takes place at the height of the COVID-19 crisis. The film is certainly marketed that way, with commercial posters featuring the leads in ubiquitous face masks, socially distanced from the blurred crowd. 

But interestingly, The Falls is not just a situational, pandemic-era story. More than anything else, it tells the story of Pin-wen and Xiao Jing, mother and daughter who, despite previously living a life of comfort, are now dealt with unfavorable circumstances (exacerbated but not entirely caused by the pandemic). Now, they are forced to navigate life with only each other, and it’s in the isolation they instate from the rest of the world do they forge a genuine and heartwrenching bond any and all family members will immediately recognize and perhaps even sympathize with. 

Genre: Drama, Family

Actor: Alyssa Chia, Chen Yiwen, Gingle Wang, Guan-Ting Liu, Huang Hsin-Yao, Kuan-Ting Liu, Lee-zen Lee, Liang-Tso Liu, Shao-Huai Chang, Shau-Ching Sung, Tiffany Hsu, Waa Wei, Yang Li-yin, Yi-Wen Chen

Director: Chung Mong-hong

Rating: Not Rated

, 2022

Based on a true story, Darin J. Sallam’s controversial debut feature Farha is, at heart, a brutal coming-of-age film. Set in 1948, the film is about a girl who gets locked into her family’s storeroom at the start of the Nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe. Sallam’s choice to limit most of the film’s perspective to that small storeroom is brilliant – in some ways, it echoes the surrounding discussion about the conflict. Most of what the world knows of Palestine is limited due to having to deal with censorship, lost records, and only hearing word-of-mouth stories from ancestors who just barely survived. But what we see is already too horrific to begin with. And what the film knows is the tragedy of losing your home - having to leave childhood, leave your dreams, and leave a vibrant and living culture in order to survive.

Genre: Drama, History, War

Actor: Ali Soliman, Ashraf Barhom

Director: Darin J. Sallam

Rating: TV-14

Animated in every sense of the word, The Mitchells vs. the Machines is a fun and lively watch for anyone of any age. On the surface, it’s about a tech company’s AI going haywire as it turns against humans and takes over the world (an obvious and much-deserved dig at Big Tech). It also immediately stands out as an energetic and inventive film bursting with love for the animation genre.

But at its core, it's about family and learning to love them even and especially when the going gets tough. Teenager Katie and her father Rick are at that precarious moment in their relationship where everything they do seems to annoy the other, while Katie's mother Linda tries and fails and tries again to keep the peace. The Mitchells are filled with love, but they’re not quite sure how to express it to each other, and it's both funny and relatable how it takes a literal apocalypse for them to realize that. This is a family story elevated by dynamic animation and a bizarro storyline. Expect it to go off the rails in the best possible way.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama

Actor: Abbi Jacobson, Adam Wylie, Alex Hirsch, Alison Rich, Andrew Morgado, Ashley Peldon, Beck Bennett, Caitlin McKenna, Charlyne Yi, Chrissy Teigen, Conan O'Brien, Danny McBride, Doug Nicholas, Eric André, Fred Armisen, Grey DeLisle, Griffin McElroy, Jay Pharoah, Jeff Rowe, Jim Pirri, John Legend, Juan Pacheco, Justin Shenkarow, Lex Lang, Lisa Wilhoit, Madeleine McGraw, Maya Rudolph, Melissa Sturm, Michael Rianda, Michelle Ruff, Mike Rianda, Natalia del Riego, Olivia Colman, Sasheer Zamata, Shane Sweet, Zeno Robinson

Director: Michael Rianda, Mike Rianda

Rating: PG

In the Mexican film A Cop Movie, director Alonso Ruizpalacios mixes fact and fiction, documentary and narrative, to tell the tale of Teresa and Montoya, two police officers whose dreams are dashed by the corruption of their trade and who, eventually, find love and comfort in each other.

Ruizpalacios takes thrilling risks in structuring this genre-bending story—cutting stories into parts, jumping back and forth between the harrowingly real and captivatingly non-real. For all the experimental maneuvers he makes, however, the through-line is always Teresa and Montoya: particularly, their love for each other and for an institution that should have, in an ideal world, supported them and the people they vowed to protect. 

To its credit, instead of merely humanizing the controversial police force, A Cop Movie adds some much-needed nuance to the big picture. At the end of the day, they’re no different than any other underpaid laborers working desperately to make end meets. A Cop Movie doesn’t gloss over the fact that the police, like so many other workers, are stuck in a rotten system that’s long overdue for a major overhauling. 

Genre: Action, Crime, Documentary, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Leonardo Alonso, Mónica Del Carmen, Raúl Briones

Director: Alonso Ruizpalacios

Rating: R

It's slower and stranger than most comedies you may be used to, but there's still lots of heart to be found in the way Classmates Minus follows the lapsed hopes and wishes of its core characters. Beneath all its stereotypically male yearnings for control and romantic wish fulfillment, there are potent ideas here about how a tired economy and jaded political culture can turn those in their middle age into completely different people. Writer/director Huang Hsin-yao provides narration for his own film, but rather than being distracting or conceited, his words add a level of needed sympathy to everything we see on screen.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Ada Pan, Chen Yi-wen, Chen Yiwen, Cheng Jen-shuo, Evelyn Zheng Yu-tong, Hung Shiao-ling, Jacqueline Zhu, Jacqueline Zhu Zhi-Ying, Jennifer Hong, Kuan-Ting Liu, Lan Wei-Hua, Liu Kuan-ting, Lotus Wang, Ming-Shuai Shih, Na-Do, Nadow Lin, Rexen Cheng Jen-Shuo, Shih Ming-shuai, Taka Katou, Tong Chih-Wei, Yi-Wen Chen

Director: Huang Hsin-Yao

The Dig is a reliable telling of an archaeological expedition. The setting is Britain in World War II, and a widow (played by Carey Mulligan) hires an archaeologist (played by Ralph Fiennes) to dig through her estate where a historic discovery is waiting to be found. The biggest thrills are a conflict regarding control of the land and its treasures, and an affair that blossoms within the archaeological team.

The film’s cadence is akin to that of a weary traveler sharing a fascinating tale, with each frame lit softly and beautifully. No twist or surprise appears as you turn the corner — you’re merely beckoned to uncover the past amidst a tumultuous, wartime present. Director Simon Stone has capable hands and Mulligan and Fiennes as the leads — supported by a cast that includes the charming Lily James — tick all the British, repressed, stiff upper lip boxes. All, in varying juicy degrees, exhibit an emotional undercurrent befitting the film’s subtle dramatic tension. Those seeking more insight into those undercurrents will come away sorely disappointed, however, as the well-tempered nature of the film keeps it mild and tasteful.

Though it’s not as compelling as it could have been, The Dig is, by all accounts, a lovely film.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Archie Barnes, Arsher Ali, Ben Chaplin, Bronwyn James, Carey Mulligan, Christopher Godwin, Danny Webb, Eamon Farren, Ellie Piercy, James Dryden, Joe Hurst, John Macmillan, Johnny Flynn, Ken Stott, Lily James, Monica Dolan, Paul Ready, Peter McDonald, Ralph Fiennes, Robert Wilfort

Director: Simon Stone

American Girl follows 13-year-old Fen as she returns to Taiwan from the US and tries to make sense of a culture that’s supposedly her own. In addition to her awkward but relatable attempts to understand identity and adolescence, Fen also struggles to connect with her mother Lily, whose own problems further push her away from her teenage daughter. If you’ve seen Lady Bird, you may recognize a bit of Christine and Marion in Fen and Lily as they throw themselves into an endless tug-of-war of emotions. Their fights are genuinely frustrating, but only because of how true-to-life they are.

As painful as it sometimes is to see them clash, it’s their love-hate dynamic that charges much of the film’s emotional energy and makes it ultimately irresistible to watch. 

Genre: Drama, Family

Actor: Blaire Chang, Bowie Tsang, Caitlin Fang, Hsia Yu-chiao, Jia-Yin Tsai, Kaiser Chuang, Karena Lam, Ming-shiou Tsai, Teng-Hui Huang, Winnie Shih-Ying Chang

Director: Feng-I Fiona Roan, Fiona Roan

Rating: Not Rated

The pulp and machismo that defined the ‘80s is very much present in Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash, but instead of glorifying the era, Indonesian auteur Edwin smartly flips the script and puts the headstrong Iteung (Ladya Cheryl) front and center in this subversive and heady action film. As the anti-damsel-in-distress, Iteung expertly wrestles her way through love, all while retaining an endearing cheekiness and independence about her. 

Excellently choreographed, impeccably detailed, and skewed with enough of a feminist bent to keep it fresh, Vengeance Is Mine fittingly won the top prize at the 74th Locarno International Film Festival.

Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime, Drama, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance

Actor: Ayu Laksmi, Brilliana Desy Dwinawati, Cecep Arif Rahman, Christine Hakim, Djenar Maesa Ayu, Elly D. Luthan, Kevin Ardilova, Kiki Narendra, Ladya Cheryl, Lukman Sardi, Marthino Lio, Maryam Supraba, Piet Pagau, Ratu Felisha, Reza Rahadian, Sal Priadi

Director: Edwin

Rating: TV-MA

There isn't anything about Man in Love—a remake of the 2014 South Korean film of the same name—that you haven't already seen before. But this iteration of the love story between a kindhearted woman and a scoundrel in business with gangsters and creditors benefits from high production values that help Taiwan stay romantic despite the grit of the film's plot. There's also an undeniable earnestness to even the most predictable beats here, helping the love story at its center feel more like a heat-of-the-moment bond forged in desperate economic times, and less like an abrupt bout of passion.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Hsin-Ling Chung, Lan Wei-Hua, Lin Chih-ju, Peace Yang, Roy Chiu, Tiffany Hsu, Tsai Chen-Nan

Director: Chen-Hao Yin