The Hollywood Reporter Critics Pick the Best Films of 2021 (So Far)

THR’s film reviewers pick faves from the first half of the year, including a South African drama about a gay soldier, a female buddy comedy featuring Kristen Wiig and an adaptation of an exotic dancer’s tweetstorm about a nightmarish Florida road trip.

ALL LIGHT, EVERYWHERE

Theo Anthony’s brilliant doc confronts the permeating presence in our lives of automated surveillance, zeroing in on a focus group wearing hard-to-believe tracking devices; a leading U.S. body camera manufacturer; a classroom where Baltimore police are trained to use those cameras; and a company that specializes in aerial surveillance. The result is chilling. — SHERI LINDEN

BARB AND STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR

Kristen Wiig reteams with Bridesmaids co-scribe Annie Mumolo in this sweet, screwy comedy about two Nebraskan pals who hit up a Florida resort for midlife singles. The result, an unapologetically delirious frolic in which friendship is tested by romance, adventure and a very weird villain, was just what we needed at a dark time. — DAVID ROONEY

I CARRY YOU WITH ME

Documentarian Heidi Ewing’s ambitious narrative debut traces the decades-spanning, border-crossing romance between two Mexican men with impressionistic flair and a stealthily innovative mix of fictional and nonfictional elements. It’s a poignant, urgently — though never stridently — political film that builds toward a hushed stunner of a conclusion. — JON FROSCH

IN THE HEIGHTS

Even if director Jon M. Chu brings more life to the explosive musical numbers than to the soapy connective tissue that threads them together, this big-screen adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s stage hit is a stirring valentine to a New York City neighborhood and its people. As the narrator-protagonist, Anthony Ramos delivers a star-making turn. — D.R.

MOFFIE

Oliver Hermanus explores the toxic masculinity of apartheid-era South Africa and the twin forces of racism and homophobia that fed it in his brutal, beautiful drama about a gay military conscript (played with mesmerizing internalized anxiety by Kai Luke Brümmer) trying to remain invisible. It’s sometimes tough to watch, but the harshness is mitigated by moments of aching tenderness and desire. — D.R.

QUO VADIS, AIDA?

Bosnian filmmaker Jasmila Zbanic’s heartbreaking drama plunges into the horror of ethnic cleansing during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Seen through the eyes of a U.N. interpreter (Jasna Djuricic, superb), the events unfold in 1995 in Srebrenica, where the Bosnian Serb army murdered more than 7,000 civilians. — DEBORAH YOUNG

SAINT MAUD

Morfydd Clark and Jennifer Ehle play nurse and patient in a claustrophobic British thriller from debuting director Rose Glass. The influence of ’60s and ’70s psychological horror is clear, but Glass creates a smart, sinister film with its own strange vibe, auguring well for her future prospects — as well as those of lead Clark, who acts with both subtlety and white-hot fervor. — LESLIE FELPERIN

STRAY

This affecting debut doc from Elizabeth Lo does for Istanbul’s dogs what 2017’s Kedi did for the Turkish city’s cats. The earlier film was soothing and hopeful, while this one pierces — illuminating, through its canines’ adventures, the economic and political divisions and cultural hierarchies of our time. — S.L.

TEST PATTERN

Shatara Michelle Ford’s staggeringly impressive debut follows a Black woman and her white boyfriend in the aftermath of her rape. The film takes a straightforward relationship drama and twists it into something far more complex, challenging us to consider the different ways power dynamics can play out in interracial relationships. — JOURDAIN SEARLES

ZOLA

The extent to which social media shapes our communication informs every aspect of this entertaining tale of fast friendship and premature trust. It’s been ingeniously adapted by director Janicza Bravo and Slave Play dramatist Jeremy O. Harris from a 2015 tweet storm in which Detroit exotic dancer A’Ziah King recounted a nightmarish Florida road trip. Leads Taylour Paige and Riley Keough are divine. — D.R.

This story first appeared in the June 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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