The 50 best films of 2021 in the US: the full list

·10-min read

Our countdown of the best films released in the US during 2021 reaches No 1 with Jane Campion’s menacing western about two warring brothers


This list is compiled by the Guardian film team, with all films released in the US during 2021 in contention. Check in every weekday to see our next picks, and please share your own favourite films of 2021 in the comments below.

50

The First Wave

Overwhelmingly emotional documentary shot inside a New York hospital at the start of the Covid pandemic, a remarkable film that feels like it could become a time capsule. Read the full review.

49

Sabaya

Extraordinary film that follows a team of volunteers as they infiltrate the dangerous al-Hawl camp in Syria to liberate Yazidi women trafficked as sex slaves. Read the full review.

48

Worth

Michael Keaton excels as the lawyer tasked with allocating funds for those who lost someone during the terrorist attacks in 2001, a story brought to the screen with sensitivity and care. Read the full review.

47

Boiling Point

Dizzying single-take drama featuring a potent lead performance from Stephen Graham as a chef enduring a nightmarish evening. Read the full review.

46

Last Night in Soho

Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy and Matt Smith star in Edgar Wright’s horror-thriller that takes a trip to the sleazy heart of London’s past and toxic 60s glitz. Read the full review.

45

Titane

Quite a show ... Agathe Rousselle in Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or winner Titane.
Quite a show ... Agathe Rousselle in Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or winner Titane. Photograph: BFA/Alamy

Julia Ducournau’s follow-up to her smart 2016 debut, Raw, is a freaky Cronenbergian body-horror that facetiously explores identity with yucky flair. Read the full review.

44

State Funeral

The eerie last rites of Stalin’s Soviet Union are enacted as massed mourners hail the dictator’s flower-clad body in a film that gives long-lost footage, assembled by In the Fog director Sergei Loznitsa, a new and unnerving lease of life. Read the full review.

43

Shiva Baby

Writer-director Emma Seligman’s debut about a young woman running into her sugar daddy at a family event is an amusing, transparently personal piece, a black comedy festival of excruciating embarrassment. Read the full review.

42

C’mon C’mon

Written and directed by Thumbsucker’s Mike Mills, this coming-of-age heartwarmer, shot in classy monochrome and starring Joaquin Phoenix, oozes prestige as it tackles weighty themes. Read the full review.

41

The Reason I Jump

This documentary inspired by the bestselling book of the same title is an empathic study of nonverbal autism that takes us into the world of young neurodivergent people across the world. Read the full review.

40

New Order

Director Michel Franco leaves no room for sympathy or redemption in this violent, cynical thriller, a brutally unforgiving attack on Mexico’s super-rich that delivers a vivid warning against the consequences of inequality. Read the full review.

39

Pig

A familiar revenge thriller setup with Nicolas Cage hunting for a stolen animal turns into something quieter and stranger with an unusually restrained performance from its outsize star. Read the full review.

38

Annette

Marion Cotillard in Annette.
Marion Cotillard in Annette. Photograph: Lifestyle pictures/Alamy

Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard brim with nervous energy in this bizarre musical collaboration between Leos Carax and the Sparks brothers, which kicked off this year’s Cannes film festival. Read the full review.

37

Censor

A woman working as a film censor in the 80s is shocked to discover a horror movie that recreates a traumatic incident from her childhood in Prano Bailey-Bond’s disturbing descent into video nastiness. Read the full review.

36

Never Gonna Snow Again

A mysterious masseur visits a dysfunctional gated community in this absorbing fairytale from Polish film-maker Małgorzata Szumowska, resulting in a rich brew of strangeness in an unsettling vision of suburbia. Read the full review.

35

About Endlessness

Swedish auteur Roy Andersson’s mesmerising odyssey to the heart of existence is a masterpiece of the human condition, ranging from the evils of war to the redemptive power of love. Read the full review.

34
The Velvet Underground

Todd Haynes’ documentary about the celebrated art rockers, with insights from former members and friends, takes its job seriously and gets under the band’s skin. Read the full review.

33

House of Gucci

Lady Gaga in House of Gucci.
Lady Gaga in House of Gucci. Photograph: Lifestyle pictures/Alamy

True-crime fashion-house drama directed by Ridley Scott as a pantomimey soap following a stylish Lady Gaga, as Patrizia Reggiano, as she plots to kill her ex, Maurizio Gucci. Read the full review.

32

I Care a Lot

Rosamund Pike is exquisitely nasty in J Blakeson’s toxic thriller, playing a black-hearted con artist who drains the bank accounts of well-off elderly patients after gaining legal guardianship of them. Read the full review.

31

The Tragedy of Macbeth

Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand hit top form in Joel Coen’s austere, noirish reimagining of Shakespeare’s Scottish bloodbath. Read the full review.

30

Rose Plays Julie

Uncanny and transgressive film from writer-directors Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor about a young woman who tracks down her birth parents is the film-makers’ best work yet. Read the full review

29

Procession

Robert Greene’s extraordinary documentary follows the stories of six men abused as children by Catholic priests in Kansas City with remarkable care and creativity. Read the full review.

28

tick, tick … BOOM!

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s heartfelt tribute to Broadway features Andrew Garfield as Rent composer Jonathan Larson, in his early years, in a sugar rush of showbiz highs and lows. Read the full review.

27

The World to Come

Katherine Waterston and Vanessa Kirby play two wives who fall in love amid the grinding exhaustion and violence of pioneer life in a tale of secret passions in frontier-era America. Read the full review.

26

The Killing of Two Lovers

A humiliating marital breakdown triggers a riveting portrait of male rage in Robert Machoian’s thought-provoking thriller, starring Clayne Crawford and Sepideh Moafi. Read the full review.

25

The Worst Person in the World

Joachim Trier’s captivating and witty study of a young Oslo woman struggling with who she is, and who she should be with, featured a fantastic breakout performance from Renate Reinsve, who was rightly rewarded with the best actress prize at Cannes. Read the full review

24

Bergman Island

Mia Hansen-Løve’s ruminative drama, stars Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth as a film-maker couple who visit Fårö, the Swedish island where Ingmar Bergman famously lived and worked.

23

Identifying Features

First-time director Fernanda Valadez conjures up a vision of real evil in her story of the horror and heartbreak faced by migrants into the US in Mexico’s borderlands. Read the full review.

22

Passing

Rebecca Hall’s directing debut is a stylish and subtle study of racial identity, starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga as friends who are both “passing” for what they are not, in an adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel. Read the full review.

21

A Cop Movie

Arresting Mexican docudrama from Alonso Ruizpalacios that starts off as an addictive cop show, breaks the fourth wall and then rebuilds it in a film bristling with ideas. Read the full review.

20

Red Rocket

Sean Baker’s follow-up to Tangerine and The Florida Project is a vivid study of a washed-up porn star, another lo-fi comedy about lives at the margin of US society. Read the full review.

19

Limbo

Amir El-Masry as Omar in Limbo.
Amir El-Masry as Omar in Limbo. Photograph: Saskia Coulson/AP

Heart-rending portrait of refugees stranded in Scotland that announces Ben Sharrock as a master of atmospheric film-making, in a stirring drama about a Syrian migrant. Read the full review.

18

Summer of Soul

Questlove’s magnificent documentary of the forgotten 1969 Harlem cultural festival gives moving context to rediscovered footage of Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone et al. Read the full review.

17

Getting Away With Murder(s)

David Nicholas Wilkinson’s epic investigation into the Nazis who escaped a postwar reckoning is a powerful call for Holocaust justice and lays out the difficulty of prosecuting a technocratic atrocity. Read the full review.

16

Quo Vadis, Aida?

Quo Vadis, Aida?
Quo Vadis, Aida? Photograph: Neon/AP

Through the eyes of a translator moving between the different ethnic factions, director Jasmila Žbanić musters real tragic power and clear-eyed compassion revisiting the Srebrenica massacre 25 years on. Read the full review.

15

No Time to Die

The long-awaited 25th outing for Ian Fleming’s superspy James Bond has Daniel Craig saying goodbye to 007 in a weird and self-aware epic with audacious surprises up its sleeve. Read the full review.

14

The French Dispatch

Wes Anderson’s ode to print journalism has amazing visuals, lots of laughs and an A-list cast – including Bill Murray – making it a real treat. Read the full review.

13

The Souvenir Part II

Richard Ayoade in The Souvenir Part II.
Richard Ayoade in The Souvenir Part II. Photograph: Joss Barratt/AP

Joanna Hogg’s autobiographical study of a young film-maker is less detached, more emotionally engaging, as we enter Julie’s world for a second time in a superb sequel. Read the full review.

12

Mass

Excruciating drama deals with a school shooting’s aftermath as two sets of parents meet up years after the devastating tragedy, in a difficult and impeccably acted film about forgiveness and blame. Read the full review.

11 =

West Side Story

Steven Spielberg’s thrilling remake of Stephen Sondheim’s Romeo & Juliet-inspired musical delivered smart, subtle updates as well as a pitch perfect cast of diverse actors singing and dancing memorable songs back into the multiplex. Read the full review.

11 =

Belfast

Kenneth Branagh’s euphoric eulogy to his home city stars Jamie Dornan and Judi Dench in a scintillating Troubles-era coming-of-age tale in which nightmarishness meets nostalgia. Read the full review.

10

The Lost Daughter

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s accomplished directing debut makes humid, sensual cinema of Elena Ferrante’s psychodrama of a novel, and boasts a superb central performance from Olivia Colman. Read more.

9

Azor

Unnervingly subtle drama from Andreas Fontana, about a Swiss private banker visiting clients in Argentina during the period of the military junta and “disappearances”. Read more.

8

The Humans

Stephen Karam’s Tony-winning play makes the leap to film with ease. A masterly drama that is an extraordinarily well- acted, uncomfortably intimate look at a family at Thanksgiving. Read more.

7
Licorice Pizza

Paul Thomas Anderson’s funniest and most relaxed film yet, a romance about a teenage boy wooing an older woman starring two extraordinary newcomers and stuffed with fabulously hammy A-list cameos. Read more.

6

Dune

Denis Villeneuve’s awe-inspiring take on the sci-fi classic starring Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac and Zendaya has been given room to breathe, creating a colossal spectacle and an epic triumph. Read more.

5

Flee

Thrilling documentary made with a blend of animation and archive footage tells an immensely powerful tale of a gay Afghan survivor, a remarkable story with heart and audacity. Read more

4

Drive My Car

Ryûsuke Hamaguchi reaches a new grandeur with this engrossing adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story about a theatre director grappling with Chekhov and his wife’s infidelity. Read more.

3

Petite Maman

A spellbinding ghost story from Portrait of a Lady on Fire’s Céline Sciamma. A girl meets her mother as a child in the woods in a moving tale of memory, friendship and family. Read more.

2

The Green Knight

Dev Patel rides high in the director David Lowery’s sublimely beautiful quest, which conjures up visual wonders and metaphysical mysteries from the anonymously authored 14th-century chivalric poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Read more.

1

The Power of the Dog

Jane Campion’s superb gothic western is a mysterious and menacing psychodrama about two warring brothers (Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons) on a ranch in 20s Montana. Read more.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting