10 Best Movies & Shows Released in 2021 On Kanopy

Staff & contributors

Find the best movies and show to watch from the year 2021. These handpicked recommendations are highly-rated by viewers and critics.

The film opens with Julie in her early twenties, longing to pursue a career in medical school. But after briefly testing the waters, she switches over to psychology, only to drop completely out of school and transform her hobby of photography into a professional career. This indecisiveness carries over in most aspects of her life, including and especially in romance, where impulse and desire drive her to run after what she believes to be love. The movie follows Julie as she navigates adulthood in modern Oslo—at once a specific yet universally relatable story about the growing pains of growing up.

With The Worst Person in the World, Joachim Trier scores again with another life-changing Norwegian drama about longing, love, grief, and finding your place in the world. His films can be quite sad but amidst all the drama, moments of happiness and hope are scattered throughout, as it is in real life.

From Drive My Car director Ryusuke Hamaguchi comes another film featuring long drives, thoughtful talks, and unexpected twists. An anthology of three short stories, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy ponders over ideas of love, fate, and the all-too-vexing question, “what if?” 

What if you didn’t run away from the one you love? What if you didn’t give in to lust that fateful day? What if, right then and there, you decide to finally forgive?

Big questions, but without sacrificing depth, Hamaguchi does the incredible task of making every single second feel light and meaningful. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy will leave you with mixed emotions: excited, startled, dejected, hopeful. But one thing you won’t feel is regret over watching this instant classic of a film.

A young bisexual woman attends a shiva, caught between her parents and their expectations, her ex, and her sugar daddy. Rachel Sennott’s Danielle is yet to find her path in life and everyone is determined to remind her of that. Taking place almost entirely in real-time, the film’s sharp wit is contrasted with constant anxiety, complemented by Ariel Marx’s horror-like score, full of discordant pizzicato that sounds like every last bit of sanity snapping. 

It’s a sex-positive take on 20-something life, treating bisexuality as wholly unremarkable and passing no judgment on Danielle’s sugar daddy income. Its specificities about Jewish customs and traditions are non-exclusionary, while its social claustrophobia is achingly universal. It’s comforting in the way it portrays the social horrors we all face, the feeling that everyone but you has life figured out, and that – ultimately – those who matter will pull through, eventually. One of 2021’s best.

In the first few minutes of Mass, hushed tones, solemn movements, and awkwardly averted eyes hint at an unspoken tragedy that haunts everyone in the film. The four main characters discuss it during a sit-down, but even then it remains unspeakable; such is the dedication of first-time full-length director Fran Kranz in depicting the reality of tragic events. Not much is done in the way of plot twists and shocks, but in place of those, Mass makes clever use of close-up shots and unmoving settings to portray the privacy and paralysis of grief. For this reason, Mass often feels like a masterful play brought to life, but also more than that, a brilliant portrait of healing—or at the very least, coping with the everlasting aftermath of loss. 

This Oscar-nominated drama tells the story of the events leading up to the Srebrenica massacre, in which 8372 Bosnian Muslims were killed. It focuses on one U.N. worker who was caught between trying to protect her family, herself, and helping people in need.

The film is as horrific as it is relevant: up until the actual killing starts, people are constantly being assured that everything is under control and that there is no reason to panic. This gives an eerie feeling of resemblance to the tone many minorities in distress receive nowadays.

Still, Quo Vadis, Aida? stops at depicting any of the acts that were committed that day. Instead, it focuses on Aida’s unrelenting race against the clock to save whatever she can.

Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania’s new movie is about an arrogant European artist who tattoos a Syrian man's back, essentially turning the man's body into artwork. 

The man, as a commodity, is able to travel the world freely to be in art galleries, something as a simple human with a Syrian passport he couldn’t do. Seems unlikely? It’s based on a true story.

But Ben Hania is not really interested in the political statement aspect of this unlikely stunt. Instead, she looks at what this would do to a human-being, to the man's self-esteem, his relationships, and the turns his life takes. It's a fascinating movie.

The Innocents is a Norweigan thriller that follows four kids who discover they have supernatural powers over the summer. They play around and experiment in the woods nearby, but what begins as harmless fun quickly develops into something much more disturbing and sinister.

This unnerving film, a blend of fantasy and horror, doesn't waste time explaining the origins of its mysticism. Instead, it goes straight into action—bending, twisting, and splitting open anything and anyone that gets in its way. This kind of rawness is shocking given the age range of the characters, but it also works to subvert what we've come to expect from kids, youth, and goodness. The Innocents isn't for the faint of heart, but if you can manage some bloody and unhindged scenes, then it's sure worth checking out. Directed by Eskil Vogt, co-writer of critically-acclaimed films like Thelma and The Worst Person in the World

Gunda offers an empathetic look at the lives of farm animals with its minimalist approach to the nature doc. Director Victor Kossakosvsky films without a sentimental score or voice-over narration, and shoots in a sparse yet striking black and white. This decision gives the film an intimacy often missing from more traditional modes. 

We watch a sow named Gunda, her piglets, and a few other animals through their daily routines. Long natural sequences allow the viewer to sink into the zen of the animals’ natural rhythms. The result is an astounding and bittersweet film that hints at the brutalities of factory farming without ever stepping foot in a slaughterhouse.

Romantically pairing up AI with humans is hardly new, and I'm Your Man is aware of that. Instead of spending way too much time explaining the advanced tech that makes the perfect mate possible, the movie zeroes in on its charismatic leads Tom the robot (Dan Stevens) and Alma the indifferent academic (Maren Eggert). Tom is the curious, humanoid automaton who is designed to worship Alma, and Alma is the disillusioned human who is conflicted with the authenticity of her growing feelings for Tom. I'm Your Man is smart and empathetic enough to stay afloat amidst its swirling genres and ethical dilemmas, but it is mostly the chemistry between Tom and Alma that anchors it to the love story that it actually is. 

It’s been years since Fahrije and the women of her village lost their husbands to the war. It’s one thing to move on after their passing, but quite another to never be sure about their whereabouts, dead or alive. Hive tells the story of how, in the wake of this inexplicable loss, the women of a Kosovo village reluctantly band together and make a new life for themselves and their families.

Thanks to its grit and restraint, Hive avoids the cheesy trappings of a melodrama. The dialogues are straightforward and the performances taut but affecting. Their battle with poverty and misogyny is sadly a familiar tale, but told through the lens of single mother/burgeoning entrepreneur Fahrije, it is rendered deeply personal and illuminating.