Since the days of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, I have been making “Top Ten” lists of my favorite films from each year. I used to love reading their “Best of the year” articles in their respective home-based newspapers and I would never miss their television episode where they counted down (from 10) to their picks for the best film they saw from that year.

Other critics I admired (Richard Schickel, Janet Maslin, Andrew Sarris, and Peter Travers of Rolling Stone especially) began to follow suit and by year’s end, I would read top ten lists from many of my favorite critics and see how their choices would compare to my own.

“Best of” lists are also a great way for a critic to inspire someone to see a film or, perhaps, to give one a more informed opinion that might get someone to see a film they may have previously ignored.

For a film fan (even when I was young) it was exciting and inspiring to read a structured list of films that were loved and respected by the critics who inspired me.

With the spirits of Siskel & Ebert watching over my critical eye, away we go with my top 20 films of 2021!


  1. “The Card Counter”- Paul Schrader

(The absolute best film of the year. Another striking work from one of our finest screenwriters and directors. Bold, intense, and moving. A character study/thriller about the weight of sin and the crooked path to salvation.)

  1. “Summer of Soul (… Or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised)- Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson

(A profound film of a history buried for fifty years. It will make you cry, laugh, and sing, and it will move you deeply, finding its way into your soul. One of the most exciting and important music documentaries ever made.)

  1. “Drive My Car”- Ryusuke Hamaguchi

(An accomplished and deeply affecting meditation on the paradox of identity and the weight of grief. Fascinating and completely absorbing.)

  1. “C’mon C’mon”- Mike Mills

(Extraordinary character piece about emotional growth. An intelligent film about listening to one another. This one moved me deeply.)

  1. “The Pebble and the Boy”- Chris Green

(An emotional journey that celebrates the spirit and the connection and legacy between a father and son. A “bloody ace” love letter to the Mod culture.)

  1. “Snakehead”- Evan Jackson Leong

(A powerhouse film that confronts the complete inhumanity of human trafficking and the racism that imbues how many in the United States regard immigrants.)

  1. “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy”- Ryusuke Hamaguchi

(An erotic, provocative, and brutally honest anthology of desire and infidelity. The second of two great films the director gifted us in 2021.)

  1. “tick tick… BOOM!”- Lin Manuel Miranda

(A film that is alive with heart and emotion. A loving tribute to Jonathan Larson and the lives that touched him. A persuasive memoir of a passionate soul.)

  1. “The Power of the Dog”- Jane Campion

(A master filmmaker returns with a savage and artful look at the facade of masculinity.)

  1. “The Harder They Fall”- Jeymes Samuel

(A unique, stirring, rip-roaring representation of History that uses historical figures to tell a tale of the forgotten souls who helped shape the West.)

  1. “Last Night in Soho”- Edgar Wright

(Wright’s finest hour. A sharply designed homage to Swinging Sixties London, the chamber Horror/Dramas of Bryan Forbes, Polanski, and Giallo. A surprisingly involving film that puts its director on a new level.)

  1. “Flag Day”- Sean Penn

(A deeply emotional story that is at once devastating and hopeful. Dylan Penn is a revelation. A powerful and devastating family drama.)

  1. “The Lost Daughter”- Maggie Gyllenhaal

(A literal film for thinkers with a tremendous performance from Olivia Coleman. Potent and harrowing.)

  1. “Whelm”- Skylar Lawson

(A meditative and immersive crime drama. A mood piece that comes from something deeper and more personal.)

  1. “The Green Knight”- David Lowery

(A dark and meditative retelling of the classic tale. A daring and haunting vision.)

  1. “The Last Duel”- Ridley Scott

(Intelligent old-school filmmaking. Brutal, smart, and involving. A “Rashomon”-styled look at misguided vengeance.)

  1. “Simple Like Silver”- Damian Lahey

(The unpredictability of life is explored through three characters. A profound visual poem about the life in us all.)

  1. “Yakuza Princess”- Vicente Amorim

(A pure delight in content, design, and presentation. A film full of first-class, Asian-tinged, sword and Martial Arts fighting greatness. One of the most exciting and entertaining films in many years.)

  1. “Malcolm & Marie”- Sam Levinson

(Brilliantly acted character piece about a cynical couple who deconstruct, destroy, and rebuild their relationship.)

  1. “Don’t Look Up”- Adam McKay

(Truly relevant, scary, and laugh-out-loud funny look at an America that has lost its mind. Low hanging fruit? Sure! But this is smart filmmaking that (spookily) tells it like it is and asks all of us to pay attention before it’s too late.)


Runners Up-

“Annette”- Leos Carax

“I Was a Simple Man”- Christopher Mokoto Yogi

“House of Gucci”- Ridley Scott

“Dune”- Denis Villeneuve

“Pig”- Michael Sarnoski

“Licorice Pizza”- Paul Thomas Anderson