83 Best Movies & Shows Released in 2021 (Page 3)

Staff & contributors

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

The culture of propaganda and cover-ups that kicked off the pandemic is the subject of this compelling documentary by award-winning director Nanfu Wang (One Child Nation). Wang, who traveled with her family to China in January 2020, saw and filmed the pandemic firsthand, and wrote to major newspapers like The New York Times to convince them to write about it. They never did. 

Media and government in both China and the U.S. played down the threat, and this documentary asks how different everything would have gone otherwise. More dauntingly, it's an examination of how the Communist Party in China managed to use the event to its advantage. 

Belfast stars Outlander’s Caitríona Balfe as the mother of a working-class Northern Irish family during The Troubles. Religious tension and the lack of opportunities put the family in a difficult position: they're the first in many generations to think about leaving the city of Belfast. They all have to navigate so many difficult questions on belonging, religion, and identity.

The story,  based on the director’s own childhood, is packaged in a noise-canceling black and white format. Also stars Judi Dench.

Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania’s new movie is about an arrogant European artist who tattoos a Syrian man's back, essentially turning the man's body into artwork. 

The man, as a commodity, is able to travel the world freely to be in art galleries, something as a simple human with a Syrian passport he couldn’t do. Seems unlikely? It’s based on a true story.

But Ben Hania is not really interested in the political statement aspect of this unlikely stunt. Instead, she looks at what this would do to a human-being, to the man's self-esteem, his relationships, and the turns his life takes. It's a fascinating movie.

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.

The Father is a compelling inner look at the ways dementia distorts memories. By occupying the unstable headspace of 80-year-old Anthony (Anthony Hopkins), the film allows us to experience his frustration and confusion firsthand. We, too, are unsure about the ever-shifting details we’re presented with. Conversations are circular and time seems inexistent. The faces we know are swapped with names we don’t know. Even the tiniest elements, such as the wall tiles and door handles, are constantly changing in the background. We grasp for the slippery truth with Anthony but always come up empty and unsure.

In a thoughtful move by director Florian Zeller, we also get a glimpse of the lives surrounding Anthony. The daughter Anne (Olivia Colman), in particular, is often the victim of her father’s tirades, but she takes care of him still, conflicted as to where to draw the line between his needs and hers. 

With its fluid editing, subtle detail-swaps, and empathic portrayal of characters, The Father is just as technically impressive as it is movingly kind.

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. 

Herself tells the story of Sandra (Clare Dunne), a single mother who runs away from her abusive husband to start a new life with her children. When welfare and charity prove to be insufficient with their help, she takes things into her hands by building a house of her own.

This Irish movie, co-written by star Clare Dunne, may be small in scale and budget, but it is affecting in big and powerful ways. Despite what girlbosses might tell you, chasing full independence isn't always as easy or even empowering as it looks, especially when you're stuck in the lower rungs of society like Sandra; Herself takes the honest approach by showing us the unglamorous side of making it on your own. It also has meaningful things to say about marriage and divorce, so if you were moved by Marriage Story or Kramer vs Kramer, you may feel the same about Herself, which references the latter two's iconic courtroom scenes.