Top 10 favorite movies I watched for the first time in 2021

Man, I love movies. There are so many incredible stories that have been told. Discovering a new favorite movie is an indescribable feeling. From true masterpieces to cult classics, I have so many movies left to see, but I’m slowly filling in the gaps.

I have a lot of older movies still to see, either because I wasn’t alive when they were released or I wasn’t interested in them growing up because they weren’t The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter or released by Disney.

So here are 10 of my favorite movies I watched for the first time in 2021:

1. Streets of Fire (1984)

I am obsessed with Streets of Fire. It’s everything to me. I’ve always been a sucker for 80s movies and this one is possibly the crown jewel – a beautiful disaster.

Streets of Fire is a 1980s pop-rock musical set in a strange, alternate reality that looks like both the 1980s and 1950s. A biker gang led by Willem Defoe kidnaps popstar Diane Lane and her ex-boyfriend – who has the personality of a plank of wood – must rescue her and deal with her annoying, sleazy manager (the incomparable Rick Moranis). It’s truly a sight to behold. But the songs are completely amazing. It is the dumbest, most fun 90 minutes you’ll have watching a movie.

2. Fargo (1996)

Set in the desolate frozen wasteland of…North Dakota and Minnesota, Fargo tells the story of a kidnapping gone wrong and the police chief determined to find the truth. Fargo is a dark delight and a great surprise to watch. Everyone goes 110% on the Midwestern accents here, and I could listen to seven more hours just of these characters talking to each other.

The movie is driven by a trio of powerhouse performances from Frances McDormand, William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi that really take this comedy to the next level. Even surrounded by kidnappings, criminals and murder, there’s a wonderful midwestern charm in Fargo (and the surrounding cities that feature in the story).

3. The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

As I made my way through Steven Spielberg’s filmography this year, The Adventures of Tintin was certainly the biggest surprise. Spielberg’s only animated movie is an expertly crafted adventure movie and feels like a spiritual sequel to Spielberg’s own Indiana Jones movies. Based on the famous comic strip, the story follows young investigative journalist Tintin and Captain Haddock as they search for a lost treasure. There are great laughs, fantastic action sequences, dramatic reveals and a dog sidekick. What more could you want?

The team that made this movie is truly insane too: produced by Peter Jackson (director of The Lord of the Rings), music by John Williams, and a script by Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim and Baby Driver) and Steven Moffat (Doctor Who and Sherlock).

4. The Before trilogy (1995, 2004, 2013)

Relationships can be hard, beautiful, messy and wonderful. The Before trilogy explores stages of relationships over an 18-year period. These movies are breathtaking and incredibly engaging – even if the plot of all three mostly involve two characters connecting through conversation.

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy star in the trilogy, and it’s easy to forget they’re acting most of the time. You believe in these characters and want them to find happiness. Their story begins in Before Sunrise when they meet on a train and spontaneously get off in Vienna to spend the day together. It’s so simple, yet the main characters are so complex and interesting, connecting through shared experiences and learning through their differences.

Two sequels, Before Sunset and Before Midnight, each come nine years after the previous installment. I won’t spoil how the story unfolds, but the Before trilogy is a beautiful journey through time and love, showcasing the highs and lows of relationships and the balance between the reality and hope of living a life together.  

5. Sunset Boulevard (1950)

“All right, Mr. DeMille…I’m ready for my closeup.”

There’s something so mesmerizing about classic Hollywood. Sunset Boulevard shows both the glory and darkness of the early days of the industry. Former silent movie star Norma Desmond looks to make her grand comeback to talking pictures with the help of a young screenwriter. Full of questions about pride, jealousy, success, relevancy and holding onto the past, Sunset Boulevard is truly one of the greatest movies of all time.

6. Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Two movies on my list come from the Kiera Knightley-led period drama hall of fame. Knightly is the undisputed queen of the genre, and Pride & Prejudice is one of her best. Based on the famous Jane Austen novel, it’s one of the greatest stories ever told, and Knightley and the rest of the cast bring such a joy and warmth to the story.

Matthew Macfayden’s Mr. Darcy is almost cartoonishly cold at the beginning, but the way he slowly thaws thanks to Knightley’s Elizabeth Bennet is truly wonderful. So much can be said by a look or the flex of a hand. And the world surrounding these two is just as delightful, from the gruff but supportive father of five girls, to the nervous suitor, to the rebellious younger sister. All told with the most gorgeous sets, costumes and locations you’ve ever seen.

7. My Cousin Vinny (1992)

What an incredible movie. I know Joe Pesci made his name in serious mob and gangster movies, but his comedy roles are some of my favorites (see also: Home Alone). My Cousin Vinny is one of his best performances, starring as a lawyer (barely) from Brooklyn who gets called down to Alabama to help his cousin and his friend who were wrongly arrested for murder.

Pesci is great, as is the Karate Kid himself, Ralph Macchio, but the true star of this movie is Marissa Tomei. Her final courtroom scene is one of the greatest moments captured on film and one of the most deserved Oscar wins of all time.

I love that this is set in Alabama, and the fish-out-of-water/culture clash tropes work spectacularly and provide plenty of laughs.

8. Atonement (2007)

Have two people ever been as attractive in a movie than Kiera Knightley and James McAvoy are in Atonement? This incredible love story draws you in immediately and had me hooked the entire time. Also in the Kiera Knightley period drama hall of fame, Atonement is full of longing, drama, the library scene and a tiny Saoirse Ronan. For those who are not familiar with this story, you can’t be prepared for the ending. I won’t spoil anything, but I couldn’t stop thinking about this movie for days after I watched it.

9. Almost Famous (2000)

I’ve always loved the 1980s, especially the music, but after watching Almost Famous, I think I love 1970s music just as much. This movie is wonderful but watching it for the soundtrack alone is worth it. Good grief, there are some incredible songs in this movie, including a transcendent Elton John moment.

In Almost Famous, an aspiring teenage music journalist gets the opportunity of a lifetime to travel around with a rock band. During his time with the group, he becomes friends with the members and some of their groupies, getting a front-row seat to the bright and dark moments of a life on the road. Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup and Kate Hudson are fantastic in their lead roles and there are a number of surprise guest appearances throughout. I really love this movie.

10. Speed (1994)

Sometimes all you need is Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock and a bus that can’t slow down to have a heck of a good time, right?

But in all seriousness, this might be the pinnacle of 90s action movies?