The Best Film and TV of 2021
Photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash

The Best Film and Television of 2021

If you missed any of these films and television shows from 2021 you’ll want to seek them out and bask for a while in their light – or follow their darkness.

Nalin: Last Film Show (2021) | poster

The Last Film Show

Director: Pan Nalin

Director Pan Nalin’s The Last Film Show, is an echo of the filmmaker’s childhood. Playful nine-year-old Samay (Bhavin Rabari) is seduced by the magic of cinema. His dream to make films is discouraged by his father, who believes the film industry to be dirty and unworthy of his son. He befriends Fazal (Bhavesh Shrimali), the projectionist of a run-down movie house. In exchange for his mother’s home-cooked food, Samay is allowed to watch films from Fazal’s booth. The young boy’s love of cinema and friendship with Fazal begins a journey that will not be without pain and heartbreak. 

Nalin’s previous work includes Samsara (2011), a love triangle set against the backdrop of enlightenment and spirituality, the Himalayan epic Valley of Flowers (2012), and the comedy-drama Angry Indian Goddesses (2015). He has also directed documentaries for the BBC, Discovery, and other leading networks. With The Last Film Show, he revels in the liberation of a childlike point-of-view and you will too. – Read Paul Risker’s interview with Pan Nalin here.

Edgar Wright: Last Night in Soho (2021) | poster

Last Night in Soho

Director: Edgar Wright

Last Night in Soho has been called a critique of nostalgia for the so-called “Swinging Sixties”, which is popularly remembered as a time of opportunity, counter-cultural excitement, and new freedoms. The film follows Elsie (Thomasin MacKenzie), an aspiring fashion designer who moves to London in the present day. Elsie is enamored with 1960s music, fashion, and culture, and she begins to see the London of the 1960s in her dreams, through Sandie’s (Anya Taylor-Joy) eyes.

Gradually, the Soho of Elsie’s dreams is revealed to be false—instead, it’s a dangerous place where young women like Sandie and Elsie are at constant risk of being exploited, where the lure of opportunity and freedom hides the sexist forces that are ultimately in control. But while the film critiques a particular strain of ’60s nostalgia, it is not a whole-cloth dismissal of nostalgia itself. Rather, the film champions an alternative nostalgic narrative: nostalgia for a different 1960s, in which young women could be each other’s allies. And in this more critical, subversive nostalgia, the film suggests that alliances between women could reshape how we make music and art today. – Read Alexandra Apolloni’s feature article here.

Mike Flanagan: Midnight Mass (2021) | poster

Midnight Mass

Creator: Mike Flanagan

Mike Flanagan’s new Netflix series, Midnight Mass, was always bound to be a focal point for one culture war or another. Flanagan has already established himself as a filmmaker that people talk about, and his horror films and shows consistently become cultural events. Add to this Midnight Mass’s overt and deep exploration of religion, and the stage is set for a critical moment. Horror is, of course, the most appropriate genre to explore religion, a position that Flanagan seems to take in Midnight Mass as well.

The flock and the enabling powers-that-be are so focused on the miracles, they don’t notice the transformation of the theology into a movement that eventually becomes the literal inverse of Christianity. That the same scriptures could be used seamlessly through the transition make everyone susceptible to the delusion. Flanagan’s religious allegory is essential viewing for Christians in America. It urges the Christian viewer to, like Alex Essoe’s character Mildred Gunning, take a moment and realize some perspective. – Read Danny Anderson’s feature article here.

Michael RiandaJeff Rowe: The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021) | poster

The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Directors: Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe

Yes, the aftertaste is somewhat akin to slamming several energy drinks while on a night-long gaming binge, but this is exhausting in a good way. An animated tech apocalypse family road-trip thriller, The Mitchells vs. the Machines bounces along on almost frantically funny dialogue and a bippity-boppity soundtrack by Mark Mothersbaugh with songs from Le Tigre and Los Campesinos! adding to the heady buzz.

The adolescent drama—filmmaker nerd Katie (Abbi Jacobson) feels misunderstood by her parents (Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph) and can’t wait to leave home—would seem to play second fiddle to their desperate attempts to survive the world takeover by the suddenly sentient AI of an Apple-like company. But after all the slo-mo car chases, clever wordplay, and satirical takedowns of Big Tech manias, it’s somehow Katie’s rapprochement with her adorable dorkwad dad that has staying power. – Chris Barsanti

Nobody Has to Know

Director: Bouli Lanners

Nobody Has to Know is a tender love story that offers a respite from the pain of lost identity. Its captivating premise pulls on our heartstrings. It seems at times that our memory is our very soul, and the thought of losing our sense of identity and history, the memories we’ve shared with the person we love, is terrifying. Thus, we come to this film with expectations of a journey to discover whether love can triumph over tragedy. Lanners takes the premise and nurtures it, conveying humanity while challenging our preconceptions about truth. He celebrates how we can surprise one another, and the beauty of our emotional vulnerability when we rise above it.

The film is written, directed, and performed with confidence. Omitting scenes that we’d expect to see infers a strong conviction. The director understands that a scene omitted can be powerful. It provokes our emotions, but it’s also prodding at the vulnerabilities of the filmmakers and cast. Nobody Has to Know celebrates the beauty of living, and as storytelling has been gifted to do, offers a brief catharsis from the realities of fluctuating between our own stories of pleasure and anxiety. – Read Paul Risker’s full review here.

View Nobody Has to Know trailer