Movies are back, baby! As the world slowly crawls out of the dark hole we all lived in during 2020, movie theaters are opening back up and trilled for audiences to experience movies again. The back half of this year will be packed with huge movies – FOUR MCU movies, F9, The French Dispatch, Space Jam 2, Jungle Cruise, The Green Knight, The Suicide Squad, Dear Evan Hansen, West Side Story, Dune, Top Gun: Maverick and more!
But the first half of 2021 has seen some fantastic releases already. Here are my top five movies of the year so far (and a shoutout to two of the best 2020 movies that only got wide releases this year):
Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar
From the stars and writers of Bridesmaids, Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar is more than just a movie – it’s an entire experience. I’ve watched this movie four times already in 2021. No movie has given me everything I never knew I needed more recently than Barb & Star. The way I fell in love with these two middle-aged, Midwestern best friends and their trip to Florida has brought me so much joy. It’s absolutely insane, pretty stupid at times, but completely hysterical and wonderful. I won’t spoil some of the best cameos, but this movie has everything – from a singing Jamie Dornan to an Austin Powers-style villain to teaching me what culottes are.
Bo Burnham: Inside
During the pandemic, comedian Bo Burnham wrote, directed, filmed, produced, edited and starred in this new “comedy” special all by himself. The result is one of the most incredible pieces of art to come out of the pandemic era (only beaten by Taylor Swift’s albums). I literally could not take my eyes of the screen for this entire special. Featuring Burnham’s signature wit and cutting lyrics, it’s labeled as a “comedy” special, but this made me think more about life, purpose and my own existence more than anything I’ve seen in a long time. I’m the same age as Burnham, so his critique and analysis of what it’s like growing up on the internet feels personally targeted to me. It certainly won’t be for everyone, but Inside is something I’ll be thinking about for a while.
In the Heights
Movies were gone for a long time during the pandemic. So to see a movie on an IMAX screen with hundreds of people dancing in unison to incredible music blasting in my ears nearly brought tears to my eyes. In the Heights, based on the Broadway smash from Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, tells the story of a block in New York City’s Washington Heights, largely populated by Latino and Latinx immigrants and their descendants. Anthony Ramos truly shines in the lead role – everyone is great, but it’s really his story. The movie has some phenomenal show-stopper numbers and one of the most heartbreaking moments right smack in the middle. You’ll want to jump up and dance along with this movie.
Judas and the Black Messiah
Judas and the Black Messiah may be forgotten by the time the end of the year rolls around because it came out so early and already competed in this year’s Oscars (even winning Best Supporting Actor for Daniel Kaluuya’s incredible performance). But to watch this movie in 2021 is a little haunting because of how relevant its story and themes still are today. Judas tells the story of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton (the “Black Messiah”) and the undercover FBI agent charged with infiltrating his ranks and bringing him down (“Judas”). It’s a powerful story anchored by Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield’s stellar performances.
The Mitchells vs the Machines
Sometimes you don’t truly appreciate your family until you’re all being threatened by a robot apocalypse. The Mitchells vs the Machines is the latest animated movie from the team behind Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Lego Movie. This movie has a frantic and electric energy throughout with some incredibly funny action moments (the Furby scene is a masterpiece). It’s an animated movie that works really well for adults as well as kids, especially when it looks at the way technology has affected our lives – for good and for bad. But the movie’s heart shines as well – the family dynamic, especially the generational conflict between children and their parents, is fantastic. Plus, their last name is Mitchell, which is a personal delight for me.
And special shout out to Minari and Nomadland for being two of the best movies from last year. I didn’t get to add them to my Best of 2020 list because they hadn’t been released wide until after I made it. Both movies are beautiful stories about achieving the American Dream from often overlooked groups of Americans.
What are some of your favorite movies you’ve seen so far in 2021? What are you most looking forward to in the second half of the year?