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The 50 best films of 2021 in the UK: the full list

·10-min read

This list is compiled by the Guardian film team, with all films released in the UK during 2021 in contention. Check in every weekday to see our next picks, and please share your own favourite films of 2021 in the comments below.

50

Promising Young Woman

Deathly dark satire of gender politics from writer-director Emerald Fennell, with Carey Mulligan at her ice-cold best as a scheming sociopath in a fearless unpicking of entitlement and victimhood. Read the full review.

49

Boiling Point

Dizzying single-take drama featuring a potent lead performance from Stephen Graham as a chef enduring a nightmarish evening. Read the full review.

48

Natural Light

Documentary director Dénes Nagy explores how conflict erodes loyalty, morality and human consciousness in his award-winning first feature about Hungarian troops occupying Ukraine during the second world war. Read the full review.

47

Last Night in Soho

Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy and Matt Smith star in Edgar Wright’s horror-thriller that takes a trip to the sleazy heart of London’s past and toxic 60s glitz. Read the full review.

46

Titane

Eyes on the prize ... Garance Marillier in Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or winner Titane.
Eyes on the prize ... Garance Marillier in Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or winner Titane. Photograph: Kazak Productions / Frakas Productions/Alamy

Julia Ducournau’s follow-up to her smart 2016 debut, Raw, is a freaky Cronenbergian body-horror that facetiously explores identity with yucky flair. Read the full review.

45

State Funeral

The eerie last rites of Stalin’s Soviet Union are enacted as massed mourners hail the dictator’s flower-clad body in a film that gives long-lost footage, assembled by In the Fog director Sergei Loznitsa, a new and unnerving lease of life. Read the full review.

44

Shiva Baby

Writer-director Emma Seligman’s debut about a young woman running into her sugar daddy at a family event is an amusing, transparently personal piece, a black comedy festival of excruciating embarrassment. Read the full review.

43

C’mon C’mon

Written and directed by Thumbsucker’s Mike Mills, this coming-of-age heartwarmer, shot in classy monochrome and starring Joaquin Phoenix, oozes prestige as it tackles weighty themes. Read the full review.

42

Martin Eden

Excellent Italian adaptation of Jack London’s 1909 thrilling tale, which follows the ascent of a proletarian novelist to popular success that proves a bitter disappointment. Read the full review.

41

Black Bear

Aubrey Plaza hits a career high in an ingenious meta-movie in which social tensions spiral towards disaster before a cryptic rug-pull in this strange comedy gem. Read the full review.

40

Souad

The lives of three young Egyptians become tragically entangled in Ayten Amin’s sharp, subtle coming-of-age drama that offers a shrewd and poignant study of social media identities. Read the full review.

39

The Reason I Jump

This documentary inspired by the bestselling book of the same title is an empathic study of nonverbal autism that takes us into the world of young neurodivergent people across the world. Read the full review.

38

New Order

Director Michel Franco leaves no room for sympathy or redemption in this violent, cynical thriller, a brutally unforgiving attack on Mexico’s super-rich that delivers a vivid warning against the consequences of inequality. Read the full review.

37

Annette

Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard brim with nervous energy in this bizarre musical collaboration between Leos Carax and the Sparks brothers, which kicked off this year’s Cannes film festival. Read the full review.

36

Censor

A woman working as a film censor in the 80s is shocked to discover a horror movie that recreates a traumatic incident from her childhood in Prano Bailey-Bond’s disturbing descent into video nastiness. Read the full review.

35

Never Gonna Snow Again

A mysterious masseur visits a dysfunctional gated community in this absorbing fairytale from Polish film-maker Małgorzata Szumowska, resulting in a rich brew of strangeness in an unsettling vision of suburbia. Read the full review.

34

The Velvet Underground

Todd Haynes’ documentary about the celebrated art-rockers, with insights from former members and friends, takes its job seriously and gets under the band’s skin. Read the full review.

33

House of Gucci

True-crime fashion-house drama directed by Ridley Scott as a pantomimey soap following a stylish Lady Gaga, as Patrizia Reggiano, as she plots to kill her ex, Maurizio Gucci. Read the full review.

32

I Care a Lot

Rosamund Pike is exquisitely nasty in J Blakeson’s toxic thriller, playing a black-hearted con artist who drains the bank accounts of well-off elderly patients after gaining legal guardianship of them. Read the full review.

31

Rose Plays Julie

Uncanny and transgressive film from writer-directors Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor about a young woman who tracks down her birth parents is the film-makers’ best work yet. Read the full review.

30

Ammonite

Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan find love among the fossils in Francis Lee’s sensational biopic of palaeontology pioneer Mary Anning, which reimagines her encounter with a woman trapped in a stifling marriage. Read the full review.

29

The Nest

Jude Law moves his family to a dark Surrey manor house in Sean Durkin’s 80s-set ghost story cum emotional parable that becomes a riveting neoliberal fever dream. Read the full review.

28

Procession

Robert Greene’s extraordinary documentary follows the stories of six men abused as children by Catholic priests in Kansas City with remarkable care and creativity. Read the full review.

27

tick, tick … BOOM!

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s heartfelt tribute to Broadway features Andrew Garfield as Rent composer Jonathan Larson, in his early years, in a sugar rush of showbiz highs and lows. Read the full review.

26

The World to Come

Katherine Waterston and Vanessa Kirby play two wives who fall in love amid the grinding exhaustion and violence of pioneer life in a tale of secret passions in frontier-era America. Read the full review.

25

The Killing of Two Lovers

A humiliating marital breakdown triggers a riveting portrait of male rage in Robert Machoian’s thought-provoking thriller, starring Clayne Crawford and Sepideh Moafi. Read the full review.

24

Palm Springs

No escape … Palm Springs.
No escape … Palm Springs. Photograph: BFA/Alamy

Ingenious Groundhog-Day style romance starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti as two wedding guests who get stuck in a time loop that they can’t seem to escape from. Read the full review.

23

Identifying Features

First-time director Fernanda Valadez conjures up a vision of real evil in her story of the horror and heartbreak faced by migrants into the US in Mexico’s borderlands. Read the full review.

22

Passing

Rebecca Hall’s directing debut is a stylish and subtle study of racial identity, starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga as friends who are both “passing” for what they are not, in an adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel. Read the full review.

21

The Story of Looking

An eye operation sets veteran cinephile Mark Cousins out on a delicate and fascinating exploration of what it means to look at movies and the world. Read the full review.

20

After Love

Joanna Scanlan gives a tremendous performance as a Muslim convert, who agonisingly uncovers the secret life led by her late husband Ahmed, in a lacerating portrait of a life built on marital lies. Read the full review.

19

Limbo

Heart-rending portrait of refugees stranded in Scotland that announces Ben Sharrock as a master of atmospheric film-making, in a stirring drama about a Syrian migrant. Read the full review.

18

Summer of Soul

Questlove’s magnificent documentary of the forgotten 1969 Harlem cultural festival gives moving context to rediscovered footage of Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone et al. Read the full review.

17 =

Getting Away with Murder(s)

David Nicholas Wilkinson’s epic investigation into the Nazis who escaped a postwar reckoning is a powerful call for Holocaust justice, but lays out the difficulty of prosecuting a technocratic atrocity. Read the full review.

17 =

The Humans

Stephen Karam’s Tony-winning play makes the leap to film with ease. A masterly drama that is an extraordinarily well acted, uncomfortably intimate look at a family at Thanksgiving. Read the full review.

16

Quo Vadis, Aida?

Through the eyes of a translator moving between the different ethnic factions, director Jasmila Žbanić musters real tragic power and clear-eyed compassion revisiting the Srebrenica massacre 25 years on. Read the full review.

15

Minari

Infused with a wonderful sentimentality, Lee Isaac Chung’s fictionalised account of his rural Arkansas childhood explores the growing pains of a family farm. Read the full review.

14

Dear Comrades!

Andrei Konchalovsky’s stunning re-creation of a Soviet-era massacre, in which Red Army soldiers and KGB snipers opened fire on strikers, is a rage-filled triumph. Read the full review.

13

No Time to Die

The long-awaited 25th outing for Ian Fleming’s superspy James Bond has Daniel Craig saying goodbye to 007 in a weird and self-aware epic with audacious surprises up its sleeve. Read the full review.

12

First Cow

Milky milky … Orion Lee and John Magaro in First Cow.
Milky milky … Orion Lee and John Magaro in First Cow. Photograph: Allyson Riggs/AP

Meek’s Cutoff director Kelly Reichardt returns with a superbly chewy story about a pair of drifters in the old west trying to make money by stealing milk from a newly arrived cow. Read the full review.

11

The Father

Anthony Hopkins is superb playing a man with dementia in Florian Zeller’s unbearably heartbreaking film full of intelligent performances, disorienting time slips and powerful theatrical effects. Read the full review.

10

The Tragedy of Macbeth

Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand hit top form in Joel Coen’s austere reimagining of Shakespeare’s Scottish bloodbath. Read more.

9

The Lost Daughter

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s accomplished directing debut makes humid, sensual cinema of Elena Ferrante’s psychodrama of a novel, and boasts a superb central performance from Olivia Colman. Read more.

8

Azor

Unnervingly subtle drama from Andreas Fontana, about a Swiss private banker visiting clients in Argentina during the period of the military junta and “disappearances”. Read more

7

West Side Story

Stunning recreations of the original film’s New York retain the songs and the dancing in a re-telling that will leave you gasping at the verve and panache of Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner. Read more.

6

Dune

Denis Villeneuve’s awe-inspiring take on the sci-fi classic starring Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac and Zendaya has been given room to breathe, creating a colossal spectacle and an epic triumph. Read more.

5

Nomadland

Frances McDormand delivers a wonderful performance as a boomer forced out of her home and on to the road in Chloé Zhao’s inspired Oscar-winning docufiction. Read more.

4

Drive My Car

Ryûsuke Hamaguchi reaches a new grandeur with this engrossing adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story about a theatre director grappling with Chekhov and his wife’s infidelity. Read more.

3

Petite Maman

A spellbinding ghost story from Portrait of a Lady on Fire’s Céline Sciamma. A girl meets her mother as a child in the woods in a moving tale of memory, friendship and family. Read more.

2

The Green Knight

Dev Patel rides high in the director David Lowery’s sublimely beautiful quest, which conjures up visual wonders and metaphysical mysteries from the anonymously authored 14th-century chivalric poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Read more.

1

The Power of the Dog

Benedict Cumberbatch, left, and Jesse Plemons in The Power of the Dog.
Benedict Cumberbatch, left, and Jesse Plemons in The Power of the Dog. Photograph: Kirsty Griffin/AP

Jane Campion’s superb gothic western is a mysterious and menacing psychodrama about two warring brothers (Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons) on a ranch in 20s Montana. Read more.

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