Best Films of 2021
By Film Comment on December 16, 2021
The results are in for our 2021 poll of Film Comment’s contributors and colleagues! Our Top 20 lists in both the Released and Undistributed categories feature original appreciations from critics, as well as links to features, reviews, and interviews about these films and directors from throughout the year. On this page, you’ll find our list of the best films that were released either theatrically or virtually in 2021 in the United States.
Don’t see your favorite? Check out our Best Undistributed Films of 2021 list,featuring films that premiered this year but have not yet announced stateside distribution.
Curious to see who voted and for which films? Check out our voters’ individual ballots here.
Peruse the poll results of yesteryear.
Drive My Car
Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, Japan
The vehicle at the whirring heart of Drive My Car bears a sly anomaly: the steering wheel is on the left, rather than the right, where it should be in Japan. Cars are already liminal spaces—to travel in one is to be both inside and outside, moving and still—and this aberration makes the red Saab 900 of the film, and the tale that winds around it, feel even more like a miracle of mechanics. Taking as chassis a thin Haruki Murakami story about a widowed actor who opens up to a young female chauffeur about the infidelities of his late wife, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi engineers an elaborate narrative contraption that holds control and contingency in equal poise: the film’s voluble dialogue and intricate moving parts draw their power from the mysteries—human, vehicular—that neither speech nor plot can explain. It’s a conceit brought out thrillingly in the film’s central set piece, a multilingual production of Uncle Vanya, in which language becomes a chasm rather than a bridge, refracting the experiences of the characters with nearly blinding clarity.—Devika Girish