The Green Knight; courtesy of A24 and Bron Studios

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Top 10s and best-of-the-year lists are a dime a dozen every December. So much so that for a while City Paper put a hold on our annual best films of the year list to focus on more local coverage. But in a year (or two) where escape has been sorely needed, yet many of us have been, for at least parts of 2021, confined to the bowels of our homes—how could we not celebrate the movies that gave us cause to forget about global pandemics, insurrections, and a growing Greek alphabet of COVID variants? At least, that was my thought when WCP film critics Noah Gittell and Alan Zilberman pitched me a return of their top 10 round up. 

Without further ado, Gittell and Zilberman give you their top 10 films of 2021. —Sarah Marloff

Attica

For those whose only knowledge of Attica comes from Al Pacino shouting about it in Dog Day Afternoon, this blistering documentary from director Stanley Nelson Jr. fills in the picture. Chronicling the tragic 1971 prison strike, Nelson uses riveting archival footage and haunting testimonials from the surviving prisoners, but he also listens to the guards and their traumatized families. This is how you indict a system.  —NG

Bad Trip

The first gag in Eric Andre’s bawdy, prank-driven comedy involves him being stripped naked in front of his high-school crush, while an unsuspecting onlooker sweetly tries to help. The kinder, younger brother to Borat and Jackass, Bad Trip confronts real people with absurd situations and celebrates their virtues when they choose kindness. —NG

Bad Trip; courtesy of Netflix

Bo Burnham: Inside

Bo Burnham made one of the greatest films of the last decade in Eighth Grade. He applies every bit of his filmmaking acumen to Inside, a series of original songs and one-man skits that capture the place where depression, social media addiction, and the psychological trauma of the pandemic meet. Comedy specials used to play in movie theaters, and Burnham demonstrates how you don’t need an actual cinema to make them cinematic. —NG

Drive My Car

This quiet, deliberately paced film about grief and forgiveness is picking up many accolades, and rightly so. Director Ryusuke Hamaguchi uses his ample running time to help us understand his complex, guarded characters so we cannot help but feel happy when they find some measure of happiness. —AZ

Pig

The most unexpected movie of the year, Pig was marketed as a porcine John Wick, but its rewards are much richer. As a recluse who ventures into the city to retrieve his stolen truffle pig, Nicolas Cage turns his bombastic acting style inward and anchors a deceptively simple story of grief and recovery. —NG

Test Pattern

This modest independent film, written and directed by Shatara Michelle Ford, starts out as a perfectly-observed romance, only to become a drama about the fallout of sexual assault. It is not a “message” movie; instead it depicts the gulf between one man’s desire to help his traumatized girlfriend, and how she internalizes the realization she will likely never see justice. —AZ

Test Pattern, courtesy of Kino Lorber

The Disciple

Unceremoniously dropped on Netflix this year, this Indian drama, directed by Chaitanya Tamhane, is about a classical musician’s pursuit for artistic purity, and the sacrifices he makes on the way. It is a brilliant portrait of a young artist, and even Western audiences may learn the nuances in its frequent performances and rehearsals. —AZ

The French Dispatch

Wes Anderson’s fast-paced anthology film takes on the structure of a literary magazine, using the writer’s point of view to revisit twentieth century tumult. Like The Grand Budapest Hotel, it is both fast-paced and complex, the sort of thing that reveals layers of irony and sadness upon multiple viewings. —AZ

The Green Knight

In the hands of writer-director David Lowery, this classic Arthurian tale becomes a modern meditation on, well, everything: environmental degradation, adolescence, Christmas, and maybe even narrative itself. Dev Patel shines as the prospective nobleman, and Lowery creates a strange, unforgettable mood. —NG

The Power of the Dog

Jane Campion’s western is defined by a singular presence that will linger in the audience’s mind. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Phil, a severe cowboy whose demeanor hides feelings he can barely articulate. How his family resolves their differences is sinister, and thanks to Campion’s thoughtful compositions, always invigorating. —AZ