Best of 2021: Our Top 10 Films of 2021

While the pandemic and day-and-date streaming has thrown the theatrical experience in disarray, there was no shortage of illuminating and stunning motion pictures in 2021. The team at Silver Linings Reviews is here to separate the wheat from the chaff and share the best films released in 2021.

While we tried to watch as many films as possible (over 200 2021 releases), this list is obviously not exhaustive and is subjective to our own tastes. However, there’s a film for everyone on this list, from hilarious comedies to enlightening documentaries. Be sure to share with us your favorite films of 2021 by using the hashtag #SilverLinings and following us on Twitter!

Honorable Mentions

Before we start counting down our top 10 films of 2021, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the films that almost made our list. Click on the film’s title to be taken to its IMDB page, where you can learn more about the title. All of the below films are fantastic, push the boundaries of the medium, and should not be forgotten:

#10: West Side Story

While the movie musical has had a bit of a comeback in recent years thanks to La La Land and The Greatest Showman, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of West Side Story is the first to truly capture the magic from the genre’s glory days. Spielberg opts for wide shots with minimal cuts so the audience can fully experience the film’s stunning choreography. Featuring star-making turns from Rachel Ziegler (Maria), Mike Faist (Riff), David Alvarez (Bernardo), and Ariana DeBose (Anita), West Side Story is essential viewing for musical aficionados.

Where to Watch: In Theaters & on Disney+ and HBO Max March 2nd.

#9: The Novice

Lauren Hadaway’s debut feature, The Novice, is a stone-cold knockout. The film follows college freshman Alex Dall, as she pushes herself to the brink to earn the top spot in the varsity rowing team. Not since The Social Network has rowing been so thrilling on the silver screen. Isabelle Fuhrman’s manic lead performance is exhilarating and reminiscent of J.K. Simmons’ award winning role in Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash. If you’re looking for a film that’s thrilling and unrelenting, you couldn’t pick a better film than The Novice.

Where to Watch: Rent on Amazon Instant Video

#8: The Green Knight

David Lowery’s The Green Knight adapts a centuries old story (“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”) into a spellbinding epic that reevaluates the Knights Code of Chivalry for contemporary audiences. The cinematography is lush and evokes the same kind of wonder as The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The entire cast, from Dev Patel to Joel Edgerton, is fully committed immersing the audience into this medieval world, making The Green Knight a delight for fantasy buffs and general audiences alike.

Where to Watch: Rent on Amazon Instant Video

#7: The First Wave

While it’s not an easy watch, given that we’re still in the pandemic, The First Wave is essential viewing to understand the devastating impact of COVID-19 for healthcare workers. The First Wave makes its viewers bystanders, watching the destruction of nurses’ psyches as they witness the deaths of patient after patient is overwhelming and will give audiences a deeper appreciation for healthcare professionals. The First Wave is unflinching in its depiction of the early days of the pandemic and should be kept as a time capsule to teach in history classes for decades to come.

Where to Watch: Available on Hulu

#6: Psycho Goreman

While it may be more schlocky than the other titles on this list, director Steven Kostanski has created a low-budget masterpiece with Psycho Goreman. An ultra-violent ode to Mighty Morphin Power RangersPsycho Goreman‘s premise, screenplay, and characters are so incredibly off-beat, but the entire cast and crew fully commit. This dedication lends the film a kind of sincerity that is typically lacking from the B-movie genre.

Where to Watch: Available on Shudder or Amazon Instant Video

#5: Quo vadis, Aida?

Jasmila Zbanic’s Quo vadis, Aida? is an unflinching indictment of bureaucratic red tape in the face of life-threatening circumstances. Jasna Duricic stuns as the titular Aida, a UN translator who is willing to risk everything to get her family to safety. Set in Bosnia in 1995 and based on true events, Quo vadis, Aida? is haunting and will leave you dumbfounded at the calamity that ensues.

Where to Watch: Available on Hulu or Amazon Instant Video

#4: Flee

Flee pushes the boundaries of both animation and documentary filmmaking in a way that make it one of the most unique films to release in years. Amin’s story, which sees him flee from Afghanistan to Denmark, is a incredibly powerful refugee documentary film in and of its self. The animation is not a gimmick; it solidifies Amin’s experience and helps the audience understand his frame of mind. The scenes with the vague figures and shapes are either a part of Amin’s repressed memory or an event he did not experience. The art style for the rest of the film is Amin accurately remembering and reflecting on his refugee journey. The varying art styles demonstrate Amin’s memories in a way that is near impossible to do in a standard documentary and makes Flee a must-watch in our book.

Where to Watch: Now Playing in Select Theaters (No home release date set yet)

#3: Spencer

Pablo Larrain’s Spencer, which follows Princess Diana over the course of the Christmas holidays, is the most unique biopics since the director’s approach to Jackie Kennedy (Jackie). Spencer shows Diana’s deteriorating mental state as she succumbs to the pressures and expectations of fulfilling her duty to the crown. Visions, ghosts and dream sequences are aplenty in a film that resembles The Shining more than it does a traditional biopic. Kristen Stewart’s portrayal of Lady Di is more than just a caricature as she taps into the Princess’ internal psyche. No matter your knowledge of the British Royal Family, Spencer is one of the most visually stimulating and insightful films about the currency and cost of stardom in years.

Where to Watch: Available on Hulu or Rent on Amazon Instant Video

#2: Barb & Star Go To Vista Del Mar

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is the best studio comedy since the underappreciated Game Night. Director Josh Greenbaum’s film is a riff on the Austin Powers franchise with a hint of The Lonely Island (Hot Rod, Popstar) thrown in for good measure. and I could not get enough of it. The entire cast gives it their all, and the film surprises by giving the audience the most absurd response to any given situation. It’s hard to say more without spoiling the film, but Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar is a future cult classic and should be on everyone’s watchlists.

Where to Watch: Available on Hulu or Amazon Instant Video

Special Mention: Bo Burnham: Inside

While some may classify Bo Burnham: Inside as more of a comedy special, there’s such a plethora of cinematic techniques in the feature that we had to include it in our lineup. Bo Burnham: Inside functions as a culmination of Burnham’s entire career and a survey of our of tech obsessed culture today through the use of catchy and clever songs like “Welcome to the Internet” and “FaceTime with My Mom (Tonight)”. It’s not quite a movie, nor comedy special, nor sketch show; it’s a combination of all current visual mediums. In an age where the lines between film and TV are increasingly blurred, Inside is the first piece of “content” (as he describes it) to make the line turn invisible entirely.

Where to Watch: Available on Netflix

#1: Nine Days

Edson Oda’s debut film, Nine Days, is a simply breathtaking film that tackles our perception of the world. The film follows Will (Winston Duke), a depressed and reclusive individual who is tasked with interviewing human souls for the opportunity to be born. Nine Days seeks to answer the question to human existence: Do we look at our lives with positivity, or do we let nihilism win out? The acting is phenomenal across the board, but especially Winston Duke, who gives one of the most emotionally complex performances of the last decade. The string filled score and cinematography are elegant and beautiful. If you are feeling lost or depressed, Nine Days is a truly transformative experience that will change your outlook on life.

Where to Watch: Rent on Amazon Instant Video

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