December 30, 2021

In a challenging year for the movie business, these 10 films were the best to hit screens large and small

What even is a 2021 movie? That seems like a pretty basic question, but the continually evolving state of pandemic-era movie releases has made it tougher to answer. The Oscars and most awards-giving organizations decided that 2020 extended into the first couple of months of 2021, leaving them with a 10-month year to consider this time around. As movie theaters reopened, movies didn't necessarily follow, and it's harder than ever for viewers to figure out how and when to watch any given movie.

As more and more feature films debut on VOD and streaming services, the definition of what qualifies as a "movie" is also blurring. Are the three interconnected Fear Street movies, released weekly on Netflix, three separate feature films, or a three-part TV series? Is Peter Jackson's three-part, nearly eight-hour Disney+ Beatles documentary Get Back just a really long movie? Does it even matter?

Whether you're comfortable returning to movie theaters or you prefer watching everything at home, whether you're a purist about the format and presentation of a feature film or you're platform-agnostic, one constant is that the movies keep coming. There are amazing pieces of art to experience, no matter how or where they arrive. Here are the 10 that I found to be this year's best.

1 of 10
Josh Bell


Filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson returns to his beloved home base of the San Fernando Valley with this delightfully shaggy 1970s-set coming-of-age story about a teenage actor and aspiring entrepreneur (Cooper Hoffman) and his slightly older but equally immature object of desire (Alana Haim). Hoffman and Haim make striking screen debuts, and Anderson builds a wonderfully immersive world around them. Now playing in theaters.