10 of the Best Movies of 2021

Here at Your  Money Geek, we're taking a look back at some of the best movies and television series from 2021. From WandaVision and Squid Game to West Side Story and Encanto. Stick around and see if your favorites are highlighted this year.

10 of the Best Movies of 2021

17R1 TFD OB 020 0150 V029 blfx v1 8730 scaled
2021 has been a really weird year for movies. As had been the case with 2020, we started the year with movie theaters almost entirely shut down, with movie releases themselves far and few between, and usually delayed for months on end.

With the world slowly beginning to get back to normal over the last few months and movie theaters once more opening their doors, film releases steadily trickled back, giving audiences a chance to catch up on dozens of long-anticipated movies they’d been waiting months (sometimes years) to see.

Given how many movies have been released on streaming services or to theaters in the course of the year, we decided to look back at some of the best movies of 2021 and where you are currently able to see them.

Image Credit: 20th Century Studios.

In the Heights

In the Heights scaled

From the moment Lin Manuel Miranda’s award-winning first musical, In the Heights, hit the stage in 2005, it was a full-blown success, balancing a tight, interesting narrative spanning numerous characters with an unbelievably well-done musical score.

Based on the play’s success, the prospect of adapting it on to film and keeping Miranda close on hand developing it made the project a guaranteed hit, and one that audiences avidly looked forward to seeing (especially in the wake of Miranda’s earlier, equally popular Hamilton film on Disney+).

Closely paralleling the play's plot, In the Heights follows a diverse group of people living in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City, all of whom are struggling to pursue their sueñitos (little dreams) and accomplish something on their own.

Focusing on a large ensemble cast (Anthony Ramos, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Corey Hawkins, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Jimmy Smits, Miranda himself, and many more), In the Heights is a perfect ode to one’s community as well as chasing your goal in life.

Though each character aspires to be something different, the story focuses on their relationship to others within their community and the community itself. It’s about moving ahead while also looking back over your shoulder, paying your respects to the people who helped you along your journey, and will always hold a special place in your life.

Even if the story or characters don’t draw you in (which is unlikely), the endlessly enjoyable soundtrack will stay with you a long time after viewing.

Streaming on HBO Max

Image Credit: Warner Bros. 

The French Dispatch

The French Dispatch

Wes Anderson movies may not be your thing, but at the very least, you have to admit no one has such a fully formed, creative vision for a movie as Anderson does.

With each new film, he becomes increasingly more…well, “Andersonian,” in everything from his movie’s plots and characters to his set design, music, and editing, an aesthetic that can be perfectly summed up with his most recent movie, The French Dispatch.

Anderson’s first foray into an anthology format, The French Dispatch follows the writers and editors at the titular French literary magazine during the Golden Age of Journalism (the 1960s), taking audiences through a single issue of the magazine after its head editor (Bill Murray) unexpectedly passes away.

Divided into four segments, the movie’s main vignettes revolve around an imprisoned artist (Benicio del Toro) and his unorthodox art style, a student revolutionary (Timothée Chalamet), and a skilled police chef (Stephen Park) whose meal is interrupted by the kidnapping of the commissioner’s son.

The movie may be rooted too deeply in Anderson’s signature style for those unfamiliar with the director’s work. Still, it has everything you’d expect in a Wes Anderson film and more in its humor, acting, and soundtrack.

Featuring quite possibly Anderson’s largest, most impressive cast yet (Murray, del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Jeffrey Wright, Owen Wilson, and many, many more), The French Dispatch is an endearing love letter to a bygone era of journalism, complete with Anderson’s famous unique style and imagery.

Not yet streaming, but available to rent online

Image Credit: 20th Century Studios.

The Power of the Dog

The Power of the Dog

Jane Campion has always been the kind of director who can make a lot out of a little. Her movies all follow fairly minimalist plots and deliberately leave a good deal of audience interpretation of her characters—what they’re thinking, feeling, and even most of their pasts remain a mystery.

The Burbank brothers, Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George (Jesse Plemons), run a prosperous ranch in 1920s Montana. However, the brothers themselves remain largely estranged, mainly due to Phil’s aloof, often abusive personality.

When George meets a lonely widow (Kirsten Dunst) that he soon marries, quiet hostilities mount between George, his new wife, her son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and Phil when the widow and her son move into the brothers’ mansion.

Campion’s first movie since 2009, The Power of the Dogis a movie well worth waiting 12 years to see. The relationships in the movie are all cold, each character seemingly isolated from each other yet inexplicably drawn to one another through their own desire to escape their own loneliness. (Or as Plemons’ George says to his new wife, “I just want to say how nice it is not to be alone.”)

It’s still a few months to award season. Still, it’s almost certain The Power of the Dog will dominate most of the prestigious award ceremonies (already, it’s tied with Belfast for the most nominations at the 79th Golden Globes, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Cumberbatch), Best Director, and Best Screenplay).

Complemented by a tight, ambiguous script, a tense tone, amazing set design, Jonny Greenwood’s atmospheric score, and some of the best performances you’ll see from all of the actors involved, this is the type of revisionist Western that we hope to see more of in the future.

Streaming on Netflix

Image Credit: Netflix. 

Dune

DuneSome people may find it debatable whether Dune deserves a spot on this list, but Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s legendary sci-fi novel is a masterclass example of translating a book into film.

The plot of the movie follows the first half of Herbert’s original novel. It tells the story of the noble family of House Atreides, who are given sovereign control over Arrakis, a hostile desert planet that is the primary source of “spice” in the universe, a conscious-altering drug primarily used as the fuel for interplanetary space travel.

As House Atreides struggle to oversee the production of spice, they contend with the hostile elements of Arrakis, including the planet’s weather, hostile tribal natives, giant sandworms, and political rivals who want to seize control of the planet for themselves.

For decades, the potential for Frank Herbert’s best-selling novel (the sci-fi equivalent of The Lords of the Rings) to be adapted to film had been a point of contention among Dune fans and film producers, with many deeming the novel too detailed to make into a single movie. (Something that David Lynch’s earlier 1984 effort suffered greatly from, given how much material was cut from the original novel.)

Villeneuve, however, managed to prove naysayers wrong, delivering a legitimately entertaining sci-fi movie that remained unique visually (especially in its costuming and the designs for ships, settings, and technology) yet stayed faithful to the original narrative.

It’s huge, bold, wonderfully designed, and does an amazing job of introducing the cinematic world of Dune to Herbert’s longtime fans and those who have never read the book.

Not yet streaming

Image Credit: Warner Bros. 

Licorice Pizza

Licorice Pizza

Paul Thomas Anderson has yet to make a bad film in his 25-year-long career, and with his newest movie, Licorice Pizza, he manages to hit it out of the park once again. Set in the 1970s-era San Fernando Valley, Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) is a 15-year-old child actor in high school who asks out the 25-year-old photographer’s assistant, Alana (Alana Haim).

Together, the two navigate the world of New Age Hollywood, falling in love as they try to advance their own individual careers.

Anderson is pretty much the master of period pieces at this point in his career, having tackled the 1910s, 1950s, and 1980s—with Licorice Pizza marking his grand return to the 1970s after his earlier Inherent Vice and Boogie Nights.

A project dedicated to Anderon’s own Los Angeles upbringing, Licorice Pizza paints a portrait of 1970s’ LA with an air of fantasy: a hopeful, free-spirited era from Anderson’s own past (like many childhood memories) you remember as being far better than it actually was.

A clever mix between a screwball romantic comedy and a young man’s coming of age story, Licorice Pizza would go on to achieve rave reviews (especially for the performances of the two main actors), earning Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Hoffman), Best Actress (Haim), and Best Screenplay.

Not yet streaming

Image Credit: Focus Features. 

The Green Knight

(L-R): Dev Patel as Gawain and Joel Edgerton as The Lord in The Green Knight | Credit: A24

A modern retelling of the Arthurian legend, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, David Lowery’s epic medieval fantasy film is a deconstruction of the classic myth of old, brilliantly told through a modern lens.

Sir Gawain (Dev Patel) is a young knight in King Arthur’s (Sean Harris) court. When a legendary folkloric figure known as the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) enters the castle, challenging anyone brave enough to strike him down with one blow, Gawain answers the challenge, managing to decapitate the knight and win his famed ax.

One year later, Gawain must venture to the Green Knight’s faraway chapel and receive his own blow in return.

A beautifully-designed film full of unique, stand-out imagery (giants, helpful talking foxes, and ghostly specters), The Green Knight is a haunting modern retelling of the centuries-old tale of knighthood, heroism, masculinity, and confronting one’s fate, reinvigorating the original text and emboldening it with questions regarding honor. (The main question posed is what exactly makes a hero a hero, and whether Sir Gawain is brave or extremely foolish ignoring everyone’s pleas to turn home and leave the Green Knight’s challenge unanswered.)

Dark, violent, and hallucinogenic, The Green Knight is a revisionist tale of medieval values bound to be unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

Not currently streaming, but available to rent online

Image Credit: A24.

C’Mon C’Mon

Cmon Cmon

Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t really do bad movies, and looking over his past filmography, you can tell the actor chooses his roles very carefully. That being said, it’s never a bad idea when thinking about movies to watch that you choose something starring Phoenix, especially those from the 2010s onward—a period where he’s appeared in critically acclaimed film after critically acclaimed film.

Straight off the success of his earlier, universally praised titular role as Joker, C’mon C’mon sees Phoenix return to a more grounded, realistic performance as Johnny, a radio journalist asked by his estranged sister to take care of his nephew (Woody Norman) as she deals with a personal problem that requires her full attention.

Together, Johnny and his nephew tour the US, bonding and growing closer as Johnny faces mounting pressure to care for the boy even as his professional duties get in the way. A warm portrayal of family and friendship, C’mon C’mon explores the dynamic relationships that family members can have with each other, even amongst constant bickering, arguing, and disagreements that threaten to tear them apart.

Universally praised upon release, Joaquin and Norman’s onscreen chemistry has earned particular acclaim, with both actors lauded for bringing a good deal of personality to their respective roles and portraying the positive and sometimes negative aspects of their characters that define their relationship. (After all, who doesn’t occasionally want to strangle their family members when they get to be a little too annoying now and again?)

Not yet streaming

Image Credit: A24.

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Aside from the original Avengers, there’s never been a superhero mashup more ambitious than Spider-Man: No Way Home, the live-action version of Into the Spiderverse that audiences have wanted to see since Tom Holland took up the blue and white mantle in 2016.

Following the events of Far from Home, Spider-Man’s (Holland) secret identity has officially been revealed to the world, changing his life forever.

Seeking help from Dr. Strange, the two attempt to reverse their timeline to prevent Peter’s identity from ever becoming public knowledge, unknowingly breaking open the multiverse and letting numerous villains from alternate realities enter their universe.

As if the promise of seeing the return of Doc Ock, Green Goblin, and Sandman from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy or Electro and the Lizard from Sony’s Amazing Spider-Man movies weren’t enough, this ambitious crossover event also saw the long-awaited return of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield.

From the moment the movie entered production, it was almost bound to be a huge success, with MCU fans, Raimi Spider-Man fans, and Sony Spider-Man fans all joining together not to argue who’s the best live-action Spider-man, but to witness all three versions of their favorite web-slinger sharing the screen for the first time.

Not yet streaming

Image Credit: Sony. 

King Richard

King Richard

Biopics aren’t for everyone, and understandably so. Most tend to be boring and pretty much designed to earn actors nominations for meaty performances. Given how many biopics there are released each year, though, there’s bound to be one or two standout films that are actually enjoyable, presenting an interesting narrative about real-life individuals that—likely—you didn’t know very much about before.

Enter King Richard, the biographical film from director Reinaldo Marcus Green centered around Richard Williams (Will Smith), the tennis coach whose daughters—Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton)—would grow up to become two of the greatest tennis players in the world under his tutelage.

It’s been a while since Will Smith starred in anything truly remarkable. Most of his movies have received mixed or negative reviews in the past few years.

In the title role of King Richard, however, Smith makes his long-awaited comeback, perfectly embodying the role of Williams as both the tender-hearted father for Serena and Venus and the methodical coach who plots their entire future from the moment of their birth.

However, the movie is far from a simple vehicle for Smith’s performance alone. It offers a rich, nuanced portrayal of rising from nothing and achieving success beyond your wildest dreams, even in adversity, and managing to stay humble and appreciative of those who have dedicated so much to help you achieve your goals.

Warmly received upon release, the movie would win or earn nominations for several prestigious awards, including Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Smith), and Best Supporting Actress (Aunjanue Ellis for her role as Williams’ wife).

Streaming on HBO Max (until December 19)

Image Credit:  Warner Bros. 

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn

While all the films we’ve detailed so far have been released in the midst of the pandemic, none actually contain direct references to the pandemic itself (not to COVID-19, life under quarantine, or the political responses that divided the world).

Bad Luck Banging does, though, directly, humorously, and unapologetically take on a wide range of subjects, from COVID-19, the pressures of life under quarantine, to social hypocrisies so many people are prevalently guilty of today.

The main action of Bad Luck Banging begins with a history teacher (Katia Pascariu) at an elite Romanian school making a sex tape with her husband that soon leaks online. Faced with the public fallout of her private life becoming common knowledge to everyone, the teacher contends with parents and teachers calling for her resignation in light of her “moral transgression.”

An absurdist comedy from Romanian director Radu Jude, Bad Luck Banging weaves in every comedic and cinematic trick in the book, including loosely-connected montages featuring social commentary on violent historical episodes, observations about COVID, and modern consumerism.

It’s a sharp, angry, incredibly original satirical film, complete with three alternative endings that play in rapid succession, containing harsh looks at the unbelievable high social standards we hold for others while guiltlessly avoiding ourselves.

The winner of the prestigious Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, and recently announced as the Romanian entry for the Best International Film at the 94th Academy Awards, if you’re to take any lesson from viewing this movie, it’s that hopefully, you’ll cut people a little more slack now and again in the future.

Not yet streaming

Image Credit: microFILM. 

Final Thoughts

West Side Story

This past year hasn’t been easy, with the pandemic, unfortunately, overstaying its welcome.

Like 2021 itself, it’s been an extraordinary year for movies, with numerous long-anticipated movies finally coming out after months of endless delays.

In the wake of such an odd year for movies, we hope this list offers the best retrospective look at some of the best films of 2021, ranging from epic sci-fi novel adaptations to sexually-tense Westerns set in the 1920s Montana.

Additionally, we also really enjoyed West Side Story, The Harder They Fall, Drive My Car, Belfast, No Time to Die, The Mitchells vs. the Machines, Encanto, Bergman Island, Nightmare Alley, Saint Maud, No Sudden Move, and Red Rocket, all of which very nearly earned a spot on this list.

Image Credit: 20th Century Studios.

More Articles by Wealth of Geeks

Nightmare Alley

Review: ‘Nightmare Alley’ Is Visually Stunning, but Emotionally Unengaging 

10 Popcorn Movies to Binge this Weekend

10 Screwball Comedies You Have to Watch

The Essential Paul Rudd Watchlist

Every Florence Pugh Movie (And Where to Watch Them)

Image Credit: Searchlight Pictures.

This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Featured Image Credit: Maggie Lovitt. 


Richard Chachowski is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. He loves reading, his dog Tootsie, and pretty much every movie to ever exist (especially Star Wars).