In case you didn’t listen to this week’s podcast or want to refer back to Ken’s list, here are his top 10 films of 2021! Be sure to check through all our top 10s and let us know in the comments what your favorites were for the year.
10. Judas and the Black Messiah (Shaka King)
Judas and the Black Messiah is an uncompromising, sharply-realized look at the real-life events it dramatizes, thoughtfully directed by Shaka King. It’s urgent, yet comprehensive, and a solid script is brought to life with bracing performances from Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield.
9. Mass (Fran Krantz)
Fran Krantz’s debut feature takes difficult subject matter and avoids simple or reductive takeaways. It’s unafraid to ask questions without direct or even foreseeable resolutions, and it’s all led by brilliant performances from Reed Birney, Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs, and Martha Plimpton.
8. The Lost Daughter (Maggie Gyllenhaal)
The Lost Daughter is a movie that’s been bouncing around in my head in the moments and days after watching, and my estimation of it has only grown ever since. Maggie Gyllenhaal bursts out of the gate as a director with this assured, unnerving debut, crafting a rich and challenging character study with a lot to say, anchored by superb performances from Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley, playing the same character at different points in her life.
7. Riders of Justice (Anders Thomas Jensen)
By turns funny and haunting — but always perceptive and observant — Riders of Justice uses the framework of a straightforward revenge thriller to dig deep and consider the fraught and scrambled emotions at play in its characters’ thoughts and actions.
6. The Mitchells vs. the Machines (Mike Rianda)
It would have been easy for The Mitchells vs. the Machines to get lost in a candy-colored frenzy, but this movie is meticulous in both its busy style and its entertaining story, featuring a family out to save the world while trying to connect to each other. The script is sharp, the animation is solid, and a stacked cast has fun voicing their entertaining characters.
5. Flee (Jonas Poher Rasmussen)
Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s ambitious documentary respectfully and thoughtfully records and, through animation, adapts one pseudonymous refugee’s harrowing story. Flee is an engrossing tale of memory and endurance, vividly visualized onscreen.
4. Summer of Soul (…or When the Revolution Could Not be Televised) (Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson)
The remarkable footage that forms the heart of Summer of Soul — from the Harlem Cultural Festival of July 1969 — was once thought lost, but a brilliant recovery and restoration project has retrieved it for preservation and exhibition. This is an electrifying viewing experience that captures a profoundly underdiscussed moment in history and duly emphasizes its importance, with a wide array of interviews and extraordinary music to match.
3. Drive My Car (Ryusuke Hamaguchi)
This sprawling, three-hour drama uses its runtime wisely, as Ryusuke Hamaguchi directs a stupendous cast in a wrenching and tightly controlled meditation on navigating the past, as well as considering the people, relationships, and memories that haunt and linger.
2. The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion)
One thing I keep coming back to about The Power of the Dog is how masterfully it plays its cards. It doesn’t feel the need to spell itself out or call attention to its hints — instead, it has confidence in its superb cast and enveloping story to keep the viewer’s attention, and Jane Campion’s staggering direction leads us to a stunning finale that lets us realize just how well the film’s been building itself up.
1. Bergman Island (Mia-Hansen Løve)
Mia-Hansen Løve’s look at the creation of art and the people who make it is inventive, sharp, and perceptive. Anchored with fine performances and gorgeously imagined on aesthetic and thematic levels alike, Bergman Island navigates a complex story (and a story within a story) with many unexpected turns.