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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
House of Gucci
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.
Rose Plays Julie
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
No Time to Die
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.