It’s difficult to say, from the limited vantage of our present moment, if movie culture is going to return to the “normal” of a pre-COVID world. Yes, theaters are open for business again, and Hollywood has started flooding them with would-be blockbusters once more, banking on audiences being ready to return to the big screen for some big spectacle. But setting aside the possibility of a new spike and a return to quarantine conditions, the lost year of 2020 also seemed to accelerate changes in distribution strategy that were already happening, just a little slower. Which is to say: There’s a good chance that a future where nearly all movies go to streaming has already arrived. Or maybe not. After a year and a half indoors, maybe the world is primed to give the theatrical experience a major second life.
Right now, at the midway of 2021, a couple things are clear. One, that the first few months of this new year were basically an extension of the last one, at least in terms of how and what kind of films came out. And two, that even a global pandemic can’t stop worthwhile movies from being made and released. What follows, in order of when they come out (and followed by info of where they can be presently watched), is an unranked list of our 20 favorite films of the year so far—an eclectic group that includes thoughtful indies, daft Hollywood comedies, acclaimed documentaries, a musical, a horrifying revenge thriller, a zany Netflix-by-way-of-Sony animated feature, an Oscar winner that’s a 2021 movie no matter what the Academy says, and an adaptation of a Twitter thread. Cinema’s future may be uncertain. But watching these movies, it’s safe to say that its present holds rewards aplenty.