The Best Movies Of 2021 That You Might Have Missed

2021 was a strange year for movies. In our non-pandemic world (but perhaps as close as it is at present), moviegoers are gradually returning to theaters and getting excited to see something on the big screen for almost the first time. Two years.

A lot of films delayed by the pandemic finally came out this summer and fall, such as “Dune”, “No Time to Die”, Marvel’s Eternals, and Shang-Chi. Awards season is also in full swing, bringing a flood of Academy Award contenders to theaters and streaming services.

Amidst an endless array of viewing options, we wanted to highlight some of the year’s best movies of the year that’s worth looking out for this holiday season, whether in theaters or at home—whatever is more comforting.

“Language lessons”

The wonderful directorial debut of Natalie Morales He managed to make a new “two people talking on Zoom” format instead of his. Co-written and co-starring with Morales and Marc Dublas, the duo follows the deep friendship that develops between Spanish immersion teacher Carino (Morales) and her student Adam (Dublas), whose Zoom sessions become a much-needed source of communication for two isolated and broken people. While the movie was clearly filmed at the beginning of the pandemic, it is evergreen and unfolding in wonderfully unexpected directions. – Marina Fang

Ed Helms and Patti Harrison in “Together Together.”

“With each other”

It used to be that romantic comedies would follow a formula: man and woman meet; Noisy movements ensue on their way to falling in love; The man and the woman fall. Then the man and the woman rekindle their romance more than ever. Some modern shows subvert these metaphors, but more often than not, they even come across as systematic. But Together, by writer and director Nicole Beckwith is decidedly unique, challenging our cultural obsession with pairing people with the purpose of romance as it follows the relationship between one man (Ed Helms) and his gestational surrogate (Patty Harrison). Beckwith gives her heroes space to pursue their individualityambitions – for her, use the money to go to college; For him, it’s fatherhood When they enter into a mutually beneficial nine-month relationship that will change their lives irreversibly. Meaningful conversations and self-reflection abound, making it one of the healthiest relationships we’ve seen on screen. – Candice Frederick


In the spirit of transparency, “Titane” by writer-director Julia Docornau is about as crazy as a movie can be. Just consider the scene that viewers have baffled for months: the heroine, car model Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), having passionate sex with a car — and she’s impregnated. She also has a titanium plate inside her head after a horrific car accident she was involved in as a child. Oh, and she’s a serial killer. But that’s all about the insane window to a narrative that, like most horror genres, points to something much deeper, and therefore more bleak. Female sexuality, childhood trauma, and intense familial longing exploded at the fore in an uncomfortable tale that might unravel without Russell’s primary performance. She brings such humanity to what seems so absurd that you can’t help but fall in love with him. – Candice Frederick

Riley Keough and Taylor Paige "Zola."
Riley Keough and Taylor Page in “Zola”.


I’ve been back in theaters to see the long-awaited “Zola” amid the ongoing pandemic. It was worth the wait. Based on a viral 2015 Twitter thread by A’Ziah “Zola” Wells, a waitress from Detroit, the film follows Zola (performed by Taylor Page) as she travels with a new “friend,” along with the friend’s friend and “roommate” to the Tampa, Florida to make some money fast. Of course, the trip is a disaster, with wild moments at every turn. The cast is close to a blemish: Paige is stunning, Colman Domingo brings it up as always, Nicholas Brown (aka Cousin Greg, for you Stans “Succession”) is absolutely perfect, and Riley Keough is the perfect chip for Zola. Directed by Janicza Bravo, the compelling dark comedy hours in just under 90 minutes, my favorite kind of movie. – Irene E. Evans


There is a wonderful sense of anonymity in writer-director Jonas Bohr Rasmussen’s stunning documentary about an Afghan man, Amin Nawabi, recounting his harrowing experience of emigrating to Denmark. Much of that comes from the fact that it’s an animated show of Rasmussen’s interviews with Nawabi, which visually takes the audience away from the movie’s subject matter. At one point Nawabi even asked that he turn his back on the camera to tell his own story. However, there is an intimate connection that forms between audience and MPs through his narration, as he describes everything from realizing as a child that he is gay to the terrible circumstances that forced him to separate from his family to finally finding love. The narrative is about trauma as much as it is about triumph, “Escape” is a superlative achievement. – Candice Frederick

Joaquin Phoenix Woody Norman V "Come on come on."
Joaquin Phoenix and Woody Norman in “Come On.”

“come on”

Starring Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny, a radio producer tasked with caring for his nephew Jesse (Woody Norman) for a few weeks during a family crisis, writer-director Mike Mills’ sweet and sassy drama is about how it’s okay not to know what you’re doing. We all just try our best. It’s a great change to see Phoenix play a warm and fun person, and the relationships between Johnny and Jesse and Viv (Gabe Hoffman), Johnny’s sister and Jesse’s mother, are real and live on. Like “Beginners” and “20th Century Women,” Mills’ other hyper-observant films about fathers and children, “C’mon C’mon” is sweet without being too upsetting. However, it is difficult not to blur your eyes. – Marina Fang


Director Stanley Nelson proves once again why he is one of the most remarkable documentaries of his generation with his latest show, which revisits the 1971 Attica prison uprising from multiple perspectives. Through interviews with former prisoners, politicians, mediators, and hostage families, this 50-year-old story of how more than 2,000 male prisoners, many of them black and brown, seized control of the facility and is retold through a convincingly clear lens. Chronicling the prisoners’ doomed ambitions, regimes of oppression, and restrictions on food and hygiene, as well as other inhumane practices that enraged men, Attica focuses more on not only what they were fighting against but also on the cruelty of the fallout. It is a comprehensive and realistic reflection. – Candice Frederick

Penelope Cruz and Melina Smit In "Parallel mothers."
Penelope Cruz and Melina Smit in the movie Parallel Mothers.

“Parallel Mothers”

At this year’s Christmas premiere, Pedro Almodóvar’s latest collaboration with Penélope Cruz showcases some of their best work in years. The intertwining stories of Janice (Cruz) and Anna (newcomer Melina Smit), who became friends after giving birth on the same day and sharing a hospital room, form the backbone of the film. Almodóvar then connects their current story of motherhood and friendship to the past: Janis tries to recover the remains of her great-grandfather, one of dozens of victims of the Spanish Civil War whose bodies are buried in mass graves and have never been identified. Parallel lines come together in beautiful, broken ways. – Marina Fang

Amy Tan: An Unintended Memoir.

Some say the best stories are the ones you stumble upon, while others say the best are the ones that belong to you. For Amy Tan, both. The acclaimed writer behind one of the best novels ever inspired by her family’s history, “The Joy Luck Club,” details her personal narrative in this introspective documentary from the late director James Redford. As she works hard on her next story, Tan – unexpectedly even for her – begins to dig into passages from her past as she embarks on a journey of self-reflection. The result is a sometimes harrowing and ultimately healing experience that deconstructs the family’s trauma, criticism of its own books, and its emergence as a US-Chinese political voice. It is a huge thing to witness. – Candice Frederick

Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson in "pass."
Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson in Passing.


It took nearly a century for Nella Larsen’s seminal book “Passing” to hit the screen, but arguably it couldn’t have come at a better time. This does not mean that the story of two dark women wrestling with (and, first, hide) their blackness and other aspects of their identities were irrelevant throughout the Harlem Renaissance, when it was first published. Instead, the narrative, adapted and directed by Rebecca Hall and starring Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson, says as much about the phenomenon of egg scrolling as it does about our inability to look at our relationships with identity before passing judgment on someone else. Through brilliant black-and-white cinematography, Hall desensitizes the layers of the complex humanities of her heroines. – Candice Frederick


Every year, amid men’s narratives of adulthood that are usually lauded, there is often a small film that does not fit those standards and falls to the fringes. But writer-director Sian Heder’s “CODA,” which centers on the deaf lonely person (Emilia Jones) in a deaf family — the title is an acronym for “Child of Deaf Adults” — quietly refuses to get off. Header follows Ruby (Jones) on her journey as the only speaking voice for her hunter family, a teenage girl on the verge of puberty who feels dragged between her commitment to her family and her dream of becoming a singer, one considered an insult to her parents. That struggle is compelling enough, but Cedre—the adaptation of director Eric Lartigau’s 2014 drama “The Bélier Family”—looks a little further, to consider the plight of a family trembling under the weight of freedom and dependence. It is heart-wrenching and exhilarating to see each member grapple with what this means to them, individually and as a loving unit. – Candice Frederick

Olivia Colman in "The missing daughter."
Olivia Colman in The Lost Daughter.

Yannis Drakoulides/Netflix

“The Lost Daughter”

Throughout her three-decade career, Maggie Gyllenhaal has proven that she can embody the complexities of flawed female characters with empathetic ease as an actress. So it should come as no surprise that she beautifully addresses the experiences of the imperfect protagonist in the screen adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel “The Lost Daughter.” In the film, Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut, a mother (Olivia Colman) on Greek vacation deals with complicated feelings about her inability to love her two daughters when they were children, as she becomes friends with a young mother (Dakota Johnson) at a maternally resentful beach. Beautifully presented in two different time frames, “The Lost Daughter” captures not only the annoyances of motherhood but what it’s like to be arguing with no regrets about it. It is a very interesting personal study. – Candice Frederick

“Tag, tag… Boom!”

“Hamilton” and “In the Heights” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda made an impressive directorial debut with this Netflix adaptation of semi-autobiographical music by “Rent” creator Jonathan Larson. At the center of the film is a career-best performance from Andrew Garfield as Larson, capturing what it’s like to move to New York as an artist with big dreams — and wondering if it’s time to give it all up. The film’s use of various framing devices and other visual and narrative innovations help distinguish it from more standard stage-to-screen adaptations. For fans of musicals, there’s plenty of fun and clever Easter eggs. It is an unexpectedly touching tribute to the late Stephen Sondheim (performed by Bradley Whitford), who died just a week after the film’s release. – Marina Fang


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