What was the first film you saw back in theaters since the COVID-19 outbreak changed the way the world watches movies? The boffo turnout for “F9” suggests that, thanks to the vaccine, audiences are finding their way back to megaplexes. But things are still far from normal, and the first half of the year was anything but, with a 2020 Oscar season that extended well into 2021 (with the delayed releases of gems such as “The Father,” “French Exit” and “Judas and the Black Messiah” — none of which appear on this list, since they got so much attention from the Academy, which classified them as 2020 releases).
But even beyond those late-arriving Oscar contenders, film fans have been spoiled with at-home access to top-quality films, many of which flew under the radar in a world where word of mouth and conventional advertising don’t reach people the way they used to. Retracing the first six months of the year, Variety chief film critics Peter Debruge and Owen Gleiberman recommend (in alphabetical order) the dozen movies that stood out for them, and where to find them.