The 10 best movies of 2021 so far, definitively ranked (from ‘Cruella’ to ‘The Father’)

·6 min read

No offense, 2020, but you were a hot mess of a movie year.

Sure, things did work out in the end, to a degree – the Academy still whiffed on not giving "One Night in Miami" a best picture nod – but just think about where we all were at this time last year: locked down, weathering a pandemic, theaters closed all over the country, and everybody streaming like fiends.

But things have turned around in 2021. Theaters have reopened for the summer and while it's not all back to normal, there are such things as box-office hits again. Many movies are meeting audiences wherever they are, whether that's in the cinema or at home, and a positive about the Oscars extending the awards' eligibility window because of COVID-19 was actually having really good films early in the year for a change.

With things in Hollywood finally looking up, here are the best movies so far of 2021, definitively ranked:

10. ‘The Mitchells vs. the Machines’

The Mitchell family – Katie (from left, voiced by Abbi Jacobson), Linda (Maya Rudolph), Rick (Danny McBride) and Aaron (director Mike Rianda) – team up with screwed-up robots Deborahbot 5000 (Fred Armisen) and Eric (Beck Bennett) in the animated comedy "The Mitchells vs. the Machines."
The Mitchell family – Katie (from left, voiced by Abbi Jacobson), Linda (Maya Rudolph), Rick (Danny McBride) and Aaron (director Mike Rianda) – team up with screwed-up robots Deborahbot 5000 (Fred Armisen) and Eric (Beck Bennett) in the animated comedy "The Mitchells vs. the Machines."

Disney is coming strong with the animation this year, with Pixar's "Luca" and "Raya and the Last Dragon," but the high-profile studio can't compete with the sheer joy and absurd delight of this animated family comedy. Katie Mitchell (voiced by Abbi Jacobson) is forced to go on a road trip when her parents (Danny McBride and Maya Rudolph) insist on driving her to film school, a digital machine uprising occurs and the family has to work through its relationship issues in the middle of a robo-pocalypse.

Where to watch: Netflix

9. ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’

Daniel Kaluuya (center) stars as Black Panther Party Illinois chairman Fred Hampton in "Judas and the Black Messiah."
Daniel Kaluuya (center) stars as Black Panther Party Illinois chairman Fred Hampton in "Judas and the Black Messiah."

Oscar winner Daniel Kaluuya is magnetic lending a powerful oratory presence to his portrayal of Illinois Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton in Shaka King's 1960s-set historical thriller. Hampton's speeches galvanize oppressed people of every racial stripe to create a "Rainbow Coalition," and the FBI, concerned about his increasing influence, recruits a small-time criminal (Lakeith Stanfield) to infiltrate his ranks in the insightful and intense narrative.

Where to watch: Apple TV, Vudu, FandangoNOW

8. ‘Cruella’

Emma Stone plays the classic Disney villainess as a young 1970s punk fashionista in "Cruella."
Emma Stone plays the classic Disney villainess as a young 1970s punk fashionista in "Cruella."

The Mouse House remake machine actually does something fresh and interesting with this crime comedy that doubles as the origin story of dastardly puppy-napping villainess Cruella de Vil. Emma Stone gamely plays her as a young London designer in 1970s punk-rock London who tussles with a chic and ruthless fashion icon (Emma Thompson). The divine costumes and retro soundtrack dazzle in an intriguing, colorful exploration of nature vs. nurture that's also the coolest Disney film in forever.

Where to watch: Disney+, Apple TV, FandangoNOW

7. ‘Riders of Justice’

Mads Mikkelsen (right) stars as a soldier who comes home to take care of his daughter (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) and exact vengeance on the street gang responsible for his wife's death in "Riders of Justice."
Mads Mikkelsen (right) stars as a soldier who comes home to take care of his daughter (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) and exact vengeance on the street gang responsible for his wife's death in "Riders of Justice."

If you're not already a Mads Mikkelsen super-fan, this Danish action-comedy thriller will do the trick. He plays a deployed soldier returning home to take care of his daughter after his wife dies in a tragic train accident, though some probability scientists think it might have been foul play. Mikkelsen's stoic character takes revenge on a suspected biker gang while also figuring out how to be a better dude in a film that manages to be brutal and heartwarming.

Where to watch: Apple TV, Vudu, FandangoNOW

6. ‘The Sparks Brothers’

Musical siblings Russell (left) and Ron Mael have their musical careers chronicled in Edgar Wright’s documentary "The Sparks Brothers."
Musical siblings Russell (left) and Ron Mael have their musical careers chronicled in Edgar Wright’s documentary "The Sparks Brothers."

Edgar Wright's hugely entertaining and comprehensive documentary about the art-pop band Sparks doesn't have a whole bunch of "Behind the Music" drama, mainly because siblings Ron and Russell Mael have been tight as bandmates for more than 50 years. Using animation, capturing the bros' charming personalities and interviewing a swath of celebrity fans (from Beck to Mike Myers), Wright highlights their endless reinventions and commercial ups and downs to bring their tale to vivid, memorable life.

Where to watch: In theaters

5. ‘The Vigil’

Dave Davis stars as a Jewish New Yorker forced to confront a demon in the horror film "The Vigil."
Dave Davis stars as a Jewish New Yorker forced to confront a demon in the horror film "The Vigil."

While it may seem like a Hasidic spin on "The Exorcist," Keith Thomas' outstanding possession film is both refreshingly original and completely unnerving. Dave Davis plays a Jewish New Yorker of lapsed faith who's recruited by his old rabbi to be a "shomer" and watch over the body of a recently deceased community member. The all-night job turns into a battle for his soul thanks to the arrival of a demonic dybbuk in a chiller that scares up serious religious mythos and haunting historical connections.

Where to watch: Hulu, Apple TV, Vudu

4. ‘Together Together’

Matt (Ed Helms) and Anna (Patti Harrison) navigate boundary issues and form a close bond in "Together Together."
Matt (Ed Helms) and Anna (Patti Harrison) navigate boundary issues and form a close bond in "Together Together."

Nikole Beckwith's feel-good pregnancy dramedy is a showcase for Ed Helms' good-guy earnestness and a breakthrough for the hilarious Patti Harrison. A 45-year-old single tech dude (Helms) wants to be a father, his 20-something surrogate (Harrison) is a snarky barista, and the twosome becomes unexpected best friends in a wonderful film that tweaks May-December love stories and romantic-comedy tropes while embracing the importance of human connection.

Where to watch: Apple TV, Vudu, FandangoNOW

3. ‘Summer of Soul’

The documentary "Summer of Soul" showcases gospel legends Mavis Staples (left) and Mahalia Jackson performing "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" at the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival.
The documentary "Summer of Soul" showcases gospel legends Mavis Staples (left) and Mahalia Jackson performing "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" at the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival.

Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson's directorial debut, a documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, is an essential jam on multiple levels. The film interviews participants about the event and its effect on culture amid a socially and politically tumultuous period in history. The true highlights, though, are the never-before-seen performances, including a dazzling 19-year-old Stevie Wonder and the heavenly gospel duo of Mahalia Jackson and Mavis Staples that'll move anyone with a soul.

Where to watch: In theaters, Hulu (July 2)

2. ‘I Care A Lot’

Rosamund Pike plays a legal conservator and grifter who runs a racket taking on guardianship of the elderly and Peter Dinklage is the powerful gangster she ticks off in "I Care A Lot."
Rosamund Pike plays a legal conservator and grifter who runs a racket taking on guardianship of the elderly and Peter Dinklage is the powerful gangster she ticks off in "I Care A Lot."

Rosamund Pike taking on Peter Dinklage is the wickedly satisfying faceoff everyone needs in their life. J Blakeson's cleverly dark satire casts Pike (doing her best work since "Gone Girl") as a grifter who takes legal guardianship of the elderly and milks them for all they're worth, but hits a snag when her latest mark is connected to a powerful gangster (Dinklage). The satire is biting, the performances great and the message interestingly timely given Britney Spears' conservatorship battle.

Where to watch: Netflix

1. ‘The Father’

Anthony Hopkins stars as a man with dementia trying to make sense of his constantly shifting reality in Florian Zeller's "The Father."
Anthony Hopkins stars as a man with dementia trying to make sense of his constantly shifting reality in Florian Zeller's "The Father."

Anthony Hopkins' shocking best actor win over Chadwick Boseman might not have made for a happy Oscars ending but was still well-earned in Florian Zeller's exceptionally crafted drama about an elderly London man struggling with dementia. "The Father" plays as character study and horror movie as Anthony tries to make sense of a warping reality as his mind diminishes, and the actor gives one of his most stellar, wide-ranging performances, shifting from flirty charm to child-like vulnerability.

Where to watch: Apple TV, Vudu, FandangoNOW

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Best movies of 2021 so far, ranked: 'Summer of Soul,' 'Cruella,' more