Sean’s Top 10 Movies of 2021: CODA, Nightmare Alley & The Harder They Fall

by | Jan 24, 2022

You may have noticed that last year I didn’t post a best of 2020 list. When the pandemic hit almost two years ago, it left me depressed and sapped my passion for writing movie reviews. I’m sure others experienced similar feelings related to what they loved doing when things got bad. The year 2020 hit us all in different ways. I missed going to the movies. A lot. But thanks to things getting exponentially better after the new year last year, I slowly regained my love for writing reviews. And when March arrived, I never felt better and resumed writing reviews on a more consistent basis. It feels good to be back in the saddle and 2021 was a terrific year for film. From January to December, a number of standout films arrived via theatrical or streaming services. It was a difficult task to cut my list down to the 10 best films of the year. Hell, it was even more difficult once you tried figuring out which movie was the best among the five top films of 2021. That speaks to the level of quality 2021 gave moviegoers. And honestly, I would take any of my top 10 from 2021 over my top two films from 2020, which included The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Another Round. Like always, I appreciate everyone who reads my stuff. You have no idea how much it means to me. 

Honorable Mentions: The Novice, Tick, Tick…BOOM!, Nine Days, The Card Counter and The Tragedy of Macbeth.

10. The Green Knight

David Lowery’s medieval epic is unlike anything in ages. A majestic journey from start to finish and filled with beautiful imagery, The Green Knight is a fantasy tale that keeps its head on its shoulders until the credits roll. While this personal story might not be the action-packed film some might wish it to be, its character-driven story about one man trying to make a name for himself is the type of tale we should expect historians to unearth from the 14th century: one that is undoubtedly epic and will live on until the end of times. 

9. In the Heights

In a year full of great musicals, despite none of them generating more than just online buzz from Film Twitter, In the Heights stands head and shoulders above them all. Featuring a number of great musical numbers, breakout performances, and beautiful set pieces, this electric musical is an example of why the genre will never die. A decade from now, we might look back and say this was the best film to come out in 2021.

8. TIE – Zack Snyder’s Justice League and The Suicide Squad

While both films are different in tone, they are both the same in the essence of redeeming their predecessors that were widely criticized and led to the questioning of the comic book universe in which they are set. Even though both films will be the last time we see these same superhero and supervillain characters together on their own teams, they’re both epic, the best comic book movies of 2021, and helped give the DC Comics brand some momentum in the film world. Full review of Zack Snyder’s Justice League can be found HERE

7. The Matrix Resurrections

Blockbusters returned in force last year after most of them were delayed in 2020 due to the pandemic, and none of them were as triumphant or as good as The Matrix Resurrections. Arguably the year’s biggest surprise, this sci-fi sequel is so meta that it questions what it means to build a franchise in today’s current landscape. Hats off to director Lana Wachowski for making a blockbuster so daring and challenging and that is different from most. It’s a refreshing change of pace. 

6. The Worst Person in the World

Neon always releases a number of exceptional films every year, but The Worst Person in the World was the best of the bunch in 2021. A coming-of-age story that’s as good as it is wrecking, and it also happens to be the year’s best international film, thanks to three of the strongest collective performances in a single feature to come out in 2021. When this expands into theaters in a few weeks, don’t miss it. 

5. Nightmare Alley

Guillermo del Toro’s best film in over a decade (sorry, Shape of Water fans) is simple, yet effective in its execution that justifies its haunting story in the best final scene in a film that dropped last year. Featuring an arguably career-best performance from Bradley Cooper and the year’s best production design, Nightmare Alley is a lovely nod to the Golden Age of Hollywood. Hopefully, this film will find new life when it makes its debut on HBO Max and Hulu February 1. 

4. The Harder They Fall

One of two of the best Westerns to come out not only in 2021, but also in quite some time, The Harder They Fall is an entertaining shoot-’em-up that wears its confidence on its sleeve. Featuring one of the year’s best ensembles, this Netflix feature would have been the talk of audiences if it were released in major theater chains last fall. But even so, this offering is not to be missed, even if you’re not a big fan of the Western genre. There’s a little something in this for everyone. 

3. Licorice Pizza

The latest film from Paul Thomas Anderson is a sublime slice of first love captured perfectly by one of Hollywood’s best filmmakers. Featuring knockout debut performances from Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman, this film breezes through its runtime with humor and sweetness that makes it irresistible and so damn funny. And featuring a brief laugh-out-loud appearance from Bradley Cooper, Licorice Pizza also made for one of the best in-theater experiences of the year. If anything, it showed us why comedies were so missed during the pandemic. Just to be in a packed showing laughing along with everyone else was quite the experience.


Despite all the buzz throughout 2021, I didn’t view this film until near the end of the year and shame on me. CODA is the year’s best crowd-please that made me laugh, cheer, and cry. Featuring some of the year’s best moments in any given film, the power of family is shown through this film thanks to an outstanding cast, highlighted by Emilia Jones and Troy Kotsur. If this film didn’t make you tear up at any time, I’d have to question your emotional makeup. 

1. The Power of the Dog

I went back and forth among this movie and the four other films ranked before it, and the one thing that landed this film in my top spot is this: its staying power long after I saw the film for the first time. While the four previous films each have their argument for the year’s best movie, The Power of the Dog sinks in its teeth right from the get-go and never loses its initial bite and will leave its viewers thinking about what they just witnessed long after the credits roll. Tense, complex, and powerful, Jane Campion’s Western tackles toxic masculinity and power of love while leaving no stone unturned. Benedict Cumberbatch has never been better and Kodi Smit-McPhee is likely to nab an Oscar for his performance here. It’s hard not to look back at 2021 and see that any other film made a bigger impact than The Power of the Dog. The movie stays true to Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel, right down to the “walk-off” ending.