The 135 Best Feature Films of 2021

By Andrew Buckner

*The criteria utilized for the inclusion of the feature films in this list is an original 2021 release date in the U.S.*

Please note: This article is a work in progress. Please check back often, as I will be adding more films to the list from the year once I have a chance to view them.

135. Parallel Mothers

Director: Pedro Almodovar

134. Acting

Director: Sam Mason-Bell

133. Red Rocket

Director: Sean Baker

132. Flee

Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen

131. The Year of the Everlasting Storm

Directors: Anthony Chen, David Lowery, Jafar Panahi, Laura Poitras, Malik Vitthal, Apitchatong Weerasethakul, Dominga Sotomayor Castillo.

130. Slumber Party Massacre

Director: Danishka Esterhazy

129. Come True

Director: Anthony Scott Burns

128. Fear Street Part One: 1994

Director: Leigh Janiak

127. A Journal for Jordan

Director: Denzel Washington

126. The Lost Daughter

Director: Maggie Gyllenhaal

125. Bergman Island

Director: Mia Hansen-Love

124. Werewolves Within

Director: Josh Ruben

123. Don’t Look Up

Director: Adam McKay

122. The Spine of Night

Director: Philip Gelatt

121. Being the Ricardos

Director: Aaron Sorkin

120. The Last Matinee

Director: Maximiliano Contenti

119. Last Night in Soho

Director: Edgar Wright

118. King Richard

Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green

117. Earwig and the Witch

Director: Goro Miyazaki

116. Lamb

Director: Valdimir Johannsson

115. My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To

Director: Jonathan Cuartas

114. Agnes

Director: Mickey Reece

113. Extraordinary: The Revelations

Director: Jon Sumple

112. Zeros and Ones

Director: Abel Ferrara

111. Benny Loves You

Director: Karl Holt

110. Red 11

Director: Robert Rodriguez

109. The Night

Director: Kourosh Ahari

108. Siberia

Director: Abel Ferrara

107. Saint Maud

Director: Rose Glass

106. Unknown Dimension: The Story of Paranormal Activity

Director: Joe Bandelli

105. Attica

Directors: Traci Curry, Stanley Nelson

104. The Hand of God

Director: Paolo Sorrentino

103. The Great and Terrible Day of the Lord

Directors: Jared Jay Mason, Clark Runciman

102. The Courier

Director: Dominic Cooke

101. Jakob’s Wife

Director: Travis Stevens

100. The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Directors: Mike Rianda, Jeff Rowe

99. Raya and the Last Dragon

Directors: Carlos Lopez Estrada, Don Hall, Paul Briggs, John Ripa

98. Psycho Goreman

Director: Steven Kostanski

97. Honeydew

Director: Devereux Milburn

96. The Night House

Director: David Bruckner

95. Godzilla vs. Kong

Director: Adam Wingard

94. Nightbooks

Director: David Yarovesky

93. Copshop

Director: Joe Carnahan

92. Nobody

Director: Ilya Naishuller

91. The Voyeurs

Director: Michael Mohan

90. Stillwater

Director: Tom McCarthy

89. Oxygen

Director: Alexandre Aja

88. The Feast

Director: Lee Haven Jones

87. Respect

Director: Liesl Tommy

86. V/H/S/94

Directors: Simon Barrett, Chloe Okuno, Ryan Prows, Jennifer Reeder, Timo Tjahjanto

85. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

84. Wrath of Man

Director: Guy Ritchie

83. We Need to Do Something

Director: Sean King O’Grady

82. Candyman

Director: Nia DaCosta

81. The Girl Who Got Away

Director: Michael Morrissey

80. Hail to the Deadites

Director: Steve Villeneuve

79. Clerk.

Director: Malcolm Ingram

78. Dune

Director: Denis Villeneuve

77. The Novice

Director: Lauren Hadaway

76. Malignant

Director: James Wan

75. The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Director: Michael Showalter

74. Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed

Director: Joshua Rofe

73. Lapsis

Director: Noah Hutton

72. The Card Counter

Director: Paul Schrader

71. No Time to Die

Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga

70. Enemies of the State

Director: Sonia Kennebeck

69. In the Earth

Director: Ben Wheatley

68. Violation

Directors: Dusty Mancinelli, Madeline Sims-Fewer

67. In the Heights

Director: Jon M. Chu

66. The Medium

Director: Banjong Pisanthanakun

65. Antlers

Director: Scott Cooper

64. Identifying Features

Director: Fernanda Valadez

63. Tina

Directors: Daniel Lindsay, T.J. Martin

62. Seaspiracy

Director: Ali Tabrizi

61. No Sudden Move

Director: Steven Soderbergh

60. House of Gucci

Director: Ridley Scott

59. Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

Director: Questlove

58. Malcolm and Marie

Director: Sam Levinson

57. I Blame Society

Director: Gillian Wallace Horvat

56. Passing

Director: Rebecca Hall

55. 17 Blocks

Director: Davy Rothbart

54. Falling

Director: Viggo Mortensen

53. The Dig

Director: Simon Stone

52. One Night in Miami

Director: Regina King

51. Test Pattern

Director: Shatara Michelle Ford

50. Slalom

Director: Charlene Favier

49. Spoor

Directors: Agnieszka Holland, Kasia Adamik

48. Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain

Director: Morgan Neville

47. Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster

Director: Thomas Hamilton

46. M.C. Escher: Journey to Infinity

Director: Robin Lutz

45. About Endlessness

Director: Roy Andersson

44. The Man Who Sold His Skin

Director: Kaouther Ben Hania

43. Sator

Director: Jordan Graham

42. Climate of the Hunter

Director: Mickey Reece

41. Dementer

Director: Chad Crawford Kinkle

40. A Quiet Place II

Director: John Krasinski

39. The Boy Behind the Door

Directors: David Charbonier, Justin Powell

38. C’mon C’mon

Director: MIke Mills

37. Censor

Director: Prano Bailey-Bond

36. The Archivist

Director: Eric Hand

35. Jumbo

Director: Zoe Wittock

34. The Mauritanian

Director: Kevin Macdonald

33. Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street

Director: Marilyn Agrelo

32. In Search of Darkness: Part 2

Director: David A. Weiner

31. The Power of the Dog

Director: Jane Campion

30. The Last Duel

Director: Ridley Scott

29. Belfast

Director: Kenneth Branagh

28. The Green Knight

Director: David Lowery

27. Licorice Pizza

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

26. The Mad Women’s Ball

Director: Melanie Laurent

25. Benedetta

Director: Paul Verhoeven

24. Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror

Director: Kier-La Janisse

23. Titane

Director: Julia Ducournau

22. The Meaning of Hitler

Directors: Petra Epperlein, Michael Tucker

21. Judas and the Black Messiah

Director: Shaka King

20. MLK/ FBI

Director: Sam Pollard

19. Nomadland

Director: Chloe Zhao

18. In the Same Breath

Director: Nanfu Wang

17. Gunda

Director: Viktor Kossakovsky

16. A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks

Director: John Maggio

15. Wojnarowicz

Director: Chris McKim

14. A Glitch in the Matrix

Director: Rodney Ascher

13. West Side Story

Director: Steven Spielberg

12. Spencer

Director: Pablo Larrain

11. Nightmare Alley

Director: Guillermo del Toro

10. Bring it Home

Director: Carl Kriss

9. The Father

Director: Florian Zeller

8. Quo Vadis, Aida?

Director: Jasmila Zbanic

7. Acasa, My Home

Director: Radu Ciorniciuc

6. Minari

Director: Lee Isaac Chung

5. 4 Hours at the Capitol

Director: Jamie Roberts

4. The French Dispatch

Director: Wes Anderson

3. This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection

Director: Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese

2. The Amusement Park

Director: George A. Romero

1. Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Director: Jason Reitman

The Archivist (2021) – Movie Review

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ***** out of *****.

The Archivist (2021), the debut feature from director Eric Hand, is a glorious tribute to the distinct storytelling mechanics, characterizations, and vibrant, eye-popping style of the grindhouse motion pictures of the 1960’s–1970’s. The 109-minute creation beautifully mirrors this most cinematic of eras through its emotionally compelling, moody, and evocative music from White Noise Generator. The aforementioned time frame is also brilliantly reflected in the stunning cinematography from Hand. It is also seen in the remarkable performances, namely Emmett Corbin as Colonel Boaz and Jennifer Giles as Mother/Agent Pope, from everyone involved in the production.

This quality is immediately evident in the superb depiction from Hand as the lead of the narrative, Agent Caulder Benson. Hand’s enactment of Benson masterfully models that of Clint Eastwood as The Man With no Name in Sergio Leone’s brilliant Dollar Trilogy. This trio of western classics included A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966). What also heightens this parallel is that The Archivist was shot on restored 35mm Techniscope Arriflex cameras and lenses. These were also used in the recording of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. When Hand’s effort gradually aligns itself to a series of events one would associate with the previously stated Leone/Eastwood collaborations, it naturally fits the loving homage the movie mesmerizingly crafts.

Utilizing the book burning and governmental control elements of Ray Bradbury’s tour de force, Fahrenheit 451 (1953), alongside other timeless bits of science-fiction, human horror, and fantasy, Hand, who also successfully portrays Lazarus, tells the tale of Benson: a violent man whose been given the title position by an oppressive administration. Taking place in 2070, the exercise concerns Benson destroying historical remnants which are considered forbidden. In so doing, he finds out that these items seem to have a strange power over him. Filled with sudden questions and concerns about the world around him, he steals a muscle car from the 1970’s. He then heads out into the chaos of the post-apocalyptic landscape around him. Pursued by an ominous sheriff and in constant danger of the bizarre individuals he encounters, Benson searches for answers. This is while trying to escape his own past.

The Archivist is an ambitious, layered marvel of independent filmmaking. The screenplay, co-authored by Bo Gardner and Hand, is filled with tough, organic, occasionally quippy, yet often thoughtful and poetic dialogue. Such speech, along with the on-screen personalities who speak them, fit perfectly with the ambiance of a Leone/Eastwood work from nearly six decades ago. Such a design signifies that the primary personalities that dominate the piece remain enigmatic throughout the duration of the project. Regardless, this general lack of development doesn’t hinder the proceedings.

What also further strengthens the endeavor is the exceptional visual effects from Michael Crigler and Zach Hunter. They also illuminate the 1970’s veneer of the attempt. Moreover, the editing from D. Prescott Noel and Tom Marotta, makeup from Paul Moody, and set decoration by Kendall Moody are first-rate. The art direction from Ed Amantia and stunts are just as finely honed.   

Opening with an exciting, no-nonsense first act and concluding with an engrossing and quietly moving finale, The Archivist is smart, accomplished, tonally flawless, and consistently captivating entertainment. It is guaranteed to thrill both cinephiles and casual viewers alike. The action scenes are retro excellence. They are intimate and never overdone. Continually, they are also enthralling and deftly constructed. The excursion moves at a confident pace. It is never too rushed or too slow. This is ideal for the material. Hand’s undertaking incorporates social commentary into the plot just as smoothly as it does its high-level of audience involvement. In turn, The Archivist is one of the most impressive photoplays I have seen all year. It is a true fabrication of celluloid art. Particularly, one that will prove to be as enduring as the legendary ventures from which it takes such fervent notes.

Blu-rays for The Archivist can be found at http://thearchivistmovie.com/.