Everyone agrees that there are a lot of movies you may have missed in 2021. No, that's not a judgement on you, but the way that the movies (and the conversation around them) are increasingly focused on the big blockbusters.
So, while you were trying to decide whether Marvel's Eternals was theater-worthy (it's not), many movies came out that you might have missed. But since the Tom's Guide team isn't just looking at the upcoming Marvel movies and series, we've got a bunch of recommendations for the films you should watch now, especially since many are now available to watch online.
Our recommendations range from HBO Max films you might have written off to odd movies that look a bit too peculiar on paper. And with this list, you might just discover your next favorite star or director, too! So, fire up one of the best streaming devices and let us find your next favorite movie.
The Green Knight
I'm not a fan of tales of knights and fantasy, but I went to a theater to see The Greek Knight nonetheless. The impetus for my sojourn was the reliable charisma of star Dev Pate as Gawain (nephew of King Arthur), who is something of a screw-up. His life gets even more nonsensical when his mother summons The Green Knight, a man who appears to be a living, breathing tree. The wooden being makes a challenge, which Gawain accepts in what feels like a terrible mistake from the get-go. As beautifully shot and confusing as any of the other films from distributor A24 (did you understand Lamb, or just claim to?). The Green Knight is a remarkably weird achievement in adaptations of classical writing. — Henry T. Casey
Bob Odenkirk as a kick-ass action hero? We didn't see it coming, but we're still ready to recommend it. It would be easy to dismiss Nobody as little more than a shameless John Wick rip-off, but this raucously entertaining action thriller is far more than that.
The film casts Odenkirk as Hutch Mansell, a seemingly everyday guy who’s actually a former government assassin in hiding. When he accidentally falls back into his old ways, he finds himself coming up against some pretty mean Russian mobsters and must fully embrace his past in order to protect his family. The premise is a little flimsy and the plot stretches believability beyond breaking point, but it’s hard to get hung up on these minor nitpicks when you’re having so much darn fun. Plus, there are a few scenes with snow, so Nobody is technically a holiday film! — Rory Mellon
Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson deliver staggering performances as two light-skinned Black women caught between two worlds. Writer/director Rebecca Hall was inspired by her own grandfather, who passed as white. Hall chose to film in black and white, which serves to highlight how life is all about shades of gray. The story, set during the Harlem Renaissance, follows two friends who reconnect after many years. Irene (Thompson) is married to a Black doctor and has embraced her community, while Clare (Negga) is choosing to pass as the wife of a white man. Their reunion leads both to reflect on their choices and how color has shaped the course of their lives. - Kelly Woo
Stream it on Netflix (opens in new tab)
The Last Duel
The TV ads for Ridley Scott's medieval drama mystified audiences with a parade of truly terrible haircuts and a lack of detail regarding what the movie was actually about. It was an epic failure at the box office, which is truly a shame. The Last Duel is a nuanced, adult drama about how three different characters — played by Matt Damon, Adam Driver and most importantly Jodie Comer — perceive a violent sexual assault, and how a woman manages to tell her story in a repressive, biased society. Sounds like a blast, right? It ain't happy fare, but neither are a lot of the best movies. Give The Last Duel a chance when it shows up on streaming services, and make sure to sit through until the end. — Paul Wagenseil
Oxygen debuted on Netflix in May and fell, disappointingly, under the radar. Perhaps this was due to its lack of bankable stars. Maybe it was that pesky “one-inch tall barrier of subtitles.” Whatever the reason, Oxygen deserved more attention.
The film is a single location thriller centered on a woman who awakes to find herself in an airtight cryogenic chamber. She has a rapidly dwindling supply of oxygen and no memories of who she is or how she got into this situation. It’s all very reminiscent of the 2010 Ryan Reynolds lead film Buried, only Oxygen swaps a wooden coffin for a high-tech medical unit.
French actress Melanie Laurent carries the entire film in an impressively committed performance, and director Alexandre Aja plays with the claustrophobic nature of the film’s setting in some surprisingly inventive ways. With a zippy pace and a well-written third act, Oxygen is destined to become a hidden gem of Netflix’s deep content library. - Rory Mellon
Watch it on Netflix (opens in new tab)
No Sudden Move
Steven Soderbergh is one of those directors, and Ed Solomon one of those screenwriters, who get every genre right. They combined to work on the stellar crime caper No Sudden Move, which features a top-notch cast including Benicio del Toro, Jon Hamm, David Harbour and a nearly unrecognizable Brendan Fraser. Oh, and you also get Soderbergh regulars Don Cheadle and Matt Damon (the latter in an unforgettable and uncredited extended cameo). Amy Steinmetz, Bill Duke, Kieran Culkin and Ray Liotta all do their part as well.
Everyone's double-crossing and triple-crossing each other, and while the whole thing can get pretty violent, Soderbergh and Solomon keep the tone brisk and light. No Sudden Move is nothing you haven't seen before, but when it's done this well, you can't really complain. — Paul Wagenseil
Watch it on HBO Max (opens in new tab)
Director Paul Verhooven's latest work is a truly ambitious period piece that is salacious, sacrilegious and actually (somewhat) based on a true story. In 17th century Italy, young Benedetta (Elena Plonka) believes she can talk to God, and is sent by her parents to live at the Theatine Convent of the Mother of God in the city of Pescia. We then flash forward to a now-adult Benedetta (Virginie Efira), who spends her days piously and having visions where she meets a hunky Jesus, who saves her from all sorts of calamity. Things all go a bit wild then Benedetta strikes up a friendship with the newest member of the convent, the young Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia), who pursues her sexually. The two strike up a forbidden romance (making this a modern example of nunsploitation), that comes undone by accusations from Abbess Felicita (Charlotte Rampling) and the plague currently ravaging every city in the land. Full of energy and drama, Benedetta may leave some looking for the nearest confessional, to explain how much they enjoyed it. — Henry T. Casey
Body horror/trauma, thy name is Titane. From Julia Ducournau, the director of Raw, comes possibly the most shocking film I've seen in cinemas. The story focuses on Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), an adult who is very angry, and lashing out at the world after a car accident (which, let's be frank, she's somewhat to blame for) left her with a metal plate in her head when she was only a child. Now, grown up, performing hypnotic erotic dances on cars, Alexia is spending her free time getting into a world of trouble. She may only find peace when she meets Vincent (Vincent Lindon), a man whose life was torn apart when his son went missing. While Titane is not for everyone (heck, not for most people), this gory masterpiece is one of the best movies of 2021. — Henry T. Casey
In many ways, it’s surprising that Stillwater received a theatrical release this year. The Matt Damon-fronted crime drama feels ripe for release on a streaming platform. That’s not a criticism of the film per se, but rather an admission that the landscape of cinematic distribution has irrevocably shifted over the past two years. Regardless of where you watch it, Stillwater is an engaging film centered on an American man traveling to France to prove his daughter’s innocence after she’s convicted of a crime. This isn’t Bourne does Taken: Damon’s performance is extremely reserved and there are no bombastic action set pieces to speak of. Instead, this is a restrained drama that places the focus on the emotional impact and personal cost of its protagonist’s fight for justice. — Rory Mellon