The movie business continued to evolve in the midst of a pandemic in 2021 with audiences slowly opting to return to cinemas.
“Godzilla vs. Kong” was the first true blockbuster in more than a year when it debuted in March. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” closed the year out with a bang – the first film to gross more than $1 billion worldwide during the pandemic era.
The return of the blockbusters not only brought back theaters everywhere (Bowling Green theaters were closed until May), it allowed the chance for smaller films to find their way to an audience – resulting in a bounce back of sorts after last year’s shutdowns.
Here are the best films of 2021:
1. ‘Licorice Pizza’
Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s endearing slice of first love featured two star-making performances from its fresh-faced leads (Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman). Set in the San Fernando Valley in 1973, Anderson effortlessly places audiences in the world with a blissful sense of nostalgia that made this the one film of 2021 that I will want to revisit again and again.
The well-crafted, immaculately acted film about loss and grief from writer/director Fran Krantz will resonate long after the final credits roll. The four leads (Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Ann Dowd and Reed Birney) deliver a master class in acting as two sets of parents who agree to meet several years after an unspeakable tragedy.
This coming-of-age movie about a young girl who is the sole hearing member of her deaf family was the talk of Sundance – a film that took all the tropes of the genre and provided a unique spin. The film felt almost effortless in its charm with Emilia Jones emerging as one of 2021’s breakout stars.
4. ‘Summer of Soul’
In a year full of great documentaries, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s film about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival was the best of all – interweaving stunning live performances with thoughtful political insight that still resonates.
The latest adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac featured an awards-worthy performance from Peter Dinklage. In a year where the musical made a big comeback, this was easily the best of the genre.
6. ‘The Tragedy of MacBeth’
Joel Coen’s stripped-down adaptation of “MacBeth” featured stirring work from Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand and stunning cinematography from Bruno Delbonnel.
7. ‘Drive My Car’
Director Ryusuke Hamaguchi crafted a film about a widowed actor who develops a friendship with his chauffeur that takes a simple story and evolves into a complex and emotional story that still lingers in my mind several weeks after my initial viewing.
8. ‘The Power of the Dog’
Director Jane Campion’s western about toxic masculinity features an awards-worthy performance from Benedict Cumberbatch (going completely against type). No film in 2021 had a story with more surprising twists and turns.
9. ‘Shiva Baby’
Director Emma Seligman’s story of a young woman (an excellent performance from Rachel Sennott) whose dueling relationships come together at a Jewish funeral service is a funny character studio with a wonderful script that is reminiscent of classic comedies like “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan.”
A documentary about Amin Nawabi, an Afghanistan native who fled his country during civil unrest, is mostly told with animation, creating one of the most unique cinematic experiences of the year.
Honorable mention (in alphabetical order)
“Belfast,” “Being the Ricardos,” “The Harder They Fall,” “A Hero,” “The Lost Daughter,” “The Mitchells vs. The Machines,” “Pig,” “Red Rocket,” “The Rescue,” “Street Gang: The Story of Sesame Street,” “The Sparks Brothers” and “The Worst Person in the World.”