It’s been nearly two years since the COVID-19 pandemic transformed the way the world does everything, from washing one’s hands to watching movies. Before the outbreak, the aptly named “No Time To Die” was supposed to open on April 10, 2020. By the time it finally reached screens more than 18 months later, audiences were asking themselves whether it was worth it — whether the communal theatrical experience was a gamble they were willing to take.
What was the first movie you saw back in theaters? Was it “In the Heights”? “Dune”? Or maybe you’re still holding out for “West Side Story.” Remember the good old days, when the decision of whether to see a movie on the big screen was simply a factor of cost: paying the babysitter, plus the price of tickets and concessions, versus waiting a few months to rent it on demand or buy the Blu-ray?
So much about the future of this creative, collective pastime remains in limbo. But it’s hard to be too pessimistic when one sees the movies themselves. They so are rich, so accomplished, so varied in what they have to say about our tumultuous times that it’s perhaps no great surprise that Variety’s two chief film critics have nary a single title in common on their respective top 10 lists. And the Academy, when it comes time to vote, may find still more titles to celebrate. But that’s a testament to the wealth of extraordinary work to choose from. Here are Variety’s picks for the best films of 2021. (Click here to jump to Peter Debruge’s list.)