As 2021 draws to a close (good riddance!), I had a great time looking back on the year in film and trying to decide what my favorites were. Now, this list I’ve come up are NOT what I think the “best” movies are. Rather, these are the movies that made me laugh the most or cry the most. These are the movies that made me feel something, that thrilled me, or that had scenes I’ll never forget. For one reason or the other, they moved me. Check them out and see if they move you, too. Some are at Redbox already, others aren’t, and a few aren’t even released yet (those are the perks of being a film critic!).

It also turns out that many of these movies ended up with a Golden Globe nomination in at least one film category, so I guess I’m not the only one who loved them! Here are my 12 favorites of 2021, in no particular order.

Swan Song – This is the movie that challenged me the most and made me think, “What would *I* do?” Mahershala Ali pulls double-duty as a man who is going to die soon, but has the chance to replace himself with an exact (except healthy) human clone without his family knowing. Should he do it? And even if he wants to, can he actually bring himself to go through with it? I loved all of the moral dilemmas this story raised and find myself still thinking about it weeks later.

Dune – Currently streaming through Redbox On Demand and coming to the Box on January 11, Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of the infamous 1965 Frank Herbert sci-fi novel stars Timothée Chalamet as a young man who—in the middle of an interplanetary war—may or may not turn out to be a prophesized savior. It’s breathtaking and visionary, but get comfy if you watch it because it’s over 2.5 hours! Read my full review.

C’mon C’mon – Coming to Redbox on December 23 is this quiet story about Johnny, a radio journalist (Joaquin Phoenix) who ends up having to watch his 9-year-old nephew (a fantastic Woody Norman) for quite some time. Though Johnny has been working on a project for which he’s asked hundreds of children for their thoughts about the future, he ends up learning the most from the kid who’s now living with him.

The Tragedy of Macbeth – Director Joel Coen takes on Shakespeare in this visually striking, black-and-white adaptation starring Denzel Washington as the title character and Frances McDormand as his possibly crazy wife.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – All my thoughts and feels are in my theatrical review!

tick, tick …Boom! – Lin Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut is an adaptation of the musical of the same name. It stars Andrew Garfield as Jonathan Larsen (who wrote the musical), and it’s a semi-autobiographical singing and dancing tale of a Broadway hopeful’s career (and love life) ups and downs. I had never heard of the musical before watching this movie and was just blown away by the story and the songs. Its Best Picture – Musical/Comedy and Best Actor – Musical/Comedy Globe nominations are truly deserved.

King Richard – Will Smith stars as Richard Williams, Venus and Serena Williams’ dad. The movie shows how he helped his young daughters—who would go on to become two of the greatest tennis players of all time—break into the sport’s elite (and almost entirely rich and white) inner circle, as well as how he motivated them and kept them reaching higher. I love it when uplifting stories like this one are true!

A Quiet Place Part II – As this was the first movie I saw in a theater for more than a year after COVID hit, it will always have a special place in my heart. But it stood the test of time over the months and remains one of my 2021 faves. Read my full review.

House of Gucci – If you’ve heard any buzz about this Ridley Scott movie being over the top, believe that buzz. However, I still enjoyed it immensely, especially because it’s a true story about a conniving woman (Lady Gaga) who marries into the Gucci family via Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), and then oversteps boundaries in exerting her opinions and gunning for control. Jeremy Irons, Al Pacino and Jared Leto play other Guccis, and Salma Hayek is along for the ride as a psychic with a critical role in a family tragedy.

Spider-Man: No Way Home – This movie was 2.5 hours of pure awesomeness, and you should do everything you can to see it before its secrets are leaked! Read my full (spoiler-free) review.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines – If you’re a parent, when you hear “kids’ movie” your heart sinks and you’re like “Oh great, I get to sit through some lameness for 90 minutes yet again!” But this movie defies that stereotype and was so, so good. It has something to say about our dependence on technology, about family bonds, and about figuring out (and accepting) who you are. Bravo!

CODA – I was so thrilled to see that this movie earned a Golden Globe Best Picture – Drama nod because it hasn’t gotten a lot of mainstream buzz, but it’s just extraordinary. Plus, it will make you HAPPY! Who doesn’t need that right now? It stars Emilia Jones as the only hearing member of her family (Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur—nominated for a Best Supporting Actor – Drama Globe—and Daniel Durant, all amazing). Her deaf parents and brother depend on her for translation and physical labor for their struggling fishing business, but when she gets an opportunity to strike out on her own to follow her dream, can anyone bring themselves to let her go?

Where were some of your favorite 2021 movies that didn’t make my list?

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