The Best (and Worst) Films of 2021

It’s that time of year again, when I add on to the “best of” lists I have already published at Film Festival Today (where I am managing editor) and Hammer to Nail (where I am lead film critic). We all thought 2021 was going to radically different than its predecessor, both in terms of the Covid-19 pandemic and theatrical screenings. The less said about the former, the better (though vaccines and boosters were more than welcome), but as far as movies go, things did change to some degree, and many of us were happy to head to the cinemas upon occasion. Still, most of what I saw was via screener (disc or link), though I am happy to report that I went to one live, in-person film festival (Middleburg).

Whatever the challenges of watching films, as a critic I have been inundated in offerings throughout the global health crisis, so there is clearly no shortage of material out there. The list, below, constitutes my top choices—Top 10 lists for documentaries and narratives, followed by runners-up and then honorable mentions—from among the nearly 400 movies I saw. Where I previously wrote about a movie (whether for Film Festival Today or Hammer to Nail), I hyperlink the title of the movie to that review. If I did not review a film (and I have reviewed most of the below), I hyperlink the title to the movie’s official website.

If there are films you saw and loved this year which are not included on my list, then it is possible that I either did not see them or saw them and maybe liked them but not enough to include among my favorites. I also may have seen them and not liked them at all (the films I actively hated are listed at the end, under “worst of the year”). In addition, I am trying to only list films that had some kind of general release in 2021. If they played at a film festival but have not yet been released to the general public, I have kept them off (though I may have made a few mistakes in that regard).


TOP 10 DOCUMENTARIES (in alphabetical order):


TOP 10 NARRATIVES (in alphabetical order):


10 DOCUMENTARY RUNNERS-UP (in alphabetical order):


10 NARRATIVE RUNNERS-UP (in alphabetical order):


HONORABLE MENTIONS (in alphabetical order):


WORST MOVIES OF THE YEAR (in alphabetical order):

Happy New Year, and may 2022 finally return us to a semblance of real normal, whatever that may look like to you and yours.

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