Rewind 2021: Top 5 Movies Of This Year

Rewind 2021: Top 5 Movies Of This Year

2021 had its share of troubling times and delightful moments. Now, as we head towards a new year, our writers cherry pick their favorite film from this year for you. You might have seen some of the movies from this list. If you haven’t, well, you should sit back, wrap yourself in a warm, cozy blanket, with a bowl of popcorn, and enjoy these movies. 

And we, the team of Explore Screen, wish you a Happy New Year in advance. 

Tick, Tick…Boom!
(Recommended by our editor Ritwik Jay)

Rewind 2021: Top 5 Movies Of This Year

Andrew Garfield in Tick, Tick..Boom! (Credits: Netflix)

If you have survived your 20s, or are still in your 20s, you might be familiar with that excruciating anxiety of trying to have everything about your life figured out while everyone around you zooms ahead. You question your career decisions, your relationships, and what not, all the while thinking you are running out of time. Especially as you reach closer to being 30. It’s almost like there’s an invisible time bomb waiting to go off. Tick, tick, tick. 

Broadway legend Lin Manuel Miranda (creator and star of “Hamilton”) presents you a comforting delight with his directorial feature Tick, Tick..Boom! He reminds you that you are not the only one going through that anxiety. 


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Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield), a musical theater artist, is struggling with his dystopian rock musical “Superbia”. He can effortlessly create a jingle on sugar and anything else, but he seems to hit a roadblock when it comes to writing that one plot-turning song for the second act of his musical. To make his anxiety worse, his 30th birthday is approaching, and he is stressed about not having anything substantial to show for his youth. This negatively affects his relationship with his girlfriend (Alexandra Shipp) and his gay best friend (Robin de Jesus). 

Larson gets over his writing block eventually but is that enough to seek the artistic glory he so desperately wants to reach for? 

Why You Should Watch Tick, Tick..Boom!

Tick, Tick..Boom was originally a theatrical play created by Jonathan Larson. So adapting it for a screen, a whole different medium, was a challenge. After all, how do you make sure that your musical retains its dream-like fantastical aspects while establishing the narrative in a real, believable manner? But director Lin Manuel-Miranda pulls it off smartly. He himself played Jonathan Larson in the theatrical performance, and it is very evident that he is familiar with each and every strand of this musical’s soul. 

Andrew Garfield expertly captures the mental anguish, gleeful energy, and the delightful passion of Jonathan Larson. You can tell he is clearly enjoying his role and it is fun watching him like this. After all, in a sad and depressing world like ours, that kind of passion and love is always a refreshing change. 

Tick, Tick..Boom! is now streaming on Netflix.

Watch the trailer here


(Recommended by our Sub-editor Alisha L.)

Rewind 2021: Top 5 Movies Of This Year
Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson in Passing. (Credits: Netflix)

Adapted from Nella Larsen’s namesake 1929 novel, Passing (on Netflix) marks English actress Rebecca Hall’s Sundance-premiered directorial debut. The black-and-white, slow-burn drama is a period piece set in Harlem, when Black people toeing the colour-line to pass as white-skinned was entirely commonplace.  


We see the movie unfold through the lens of Irene (a marvelously understated Tessa Thompson). Proudly Black with all she wants, Irene’s carefully curated life and fragile state begin their slow descent into madness when the charismatic and beautiful Clare (an enthralling Ruth Negga), a childhood friend, walks into it. Clare has been ‘passing’ for years, hanging onto vestiges from her past life. By confronting each other, they also confront questions on the meaning of choosing life as a Black or white woman. 

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Surprisingly, the film eschews typical expectations, especially with  Clare. She has a  vibrant personality, a wealthy husband and so far unflawed and undiscovered portrayal of a white woman. Yet, she is the more envious of the two ladies. She yearns to get back to her roots, her Black society. While Irene (she feels) transgresses for moments of passing and returns home to Harlem, Clare has built a life with a racist John (Alexander Skarsgard) and feels stifled.

“We’re all passing for something or other,” Irene Redfield remarks.

Why Should You Watch Passing?

Passing employs vastly compelling visual storytelling. It is a dizzying cocktail of beautiful and thematically rich cinematography succinctly rendering tones and moods through lighting, and an almost ethereal ambiance with slow but precise, graceful but razor-sharp movements of the two protagonists. Teasing drama from the slightest actions, stolen glances, lowered gazes, trembling hands, and coy smiles, the film stays taut with tension from start to end.

While racial specification remains the dominant social construct it focuses on, Passing delves into crucial details of navigating identity crises, motherhood, parenthood, and marriage. It is specific to the Black experience and yet, somehow, personal and universal at once. Even as strong and established women, wives, and mothers, capable of straddling the color-line on both ends, the mixed-race Irene and Clare are similarly placeless, gray in this world of blacks and whites. 

 Tending to tightly knit narratives of self-realization and rediscovery, Passing morphs from a narrative on race to something intrinsically intimate, and is an enticing watch that slipped under the radar of Netflix, India - but is fully worthy of your time.

Passing is now streaming on Netflix. 

You can watch the trailer here.

Little Fish
(Recommended by our writer Harsh Maan)

Rewind 2021: Top 5 Movies Of This Year

A still from Little Fish. (Credits: IFC Films)

This entry into our 2021 playback might not be the most original idea but I can assure you that it still packs quite the punch and will leave many reaching for tissue by the end.


Little Fish is a story about two lovers, struggling to have a relationship during a time where a virus is rapidly spreading through the population, erasing their memories. 

Why Should You Watch Little Fish

Even though you might have seen a similar premise in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Little Fish still manages to provide something fresh and engaging. The cinematography is beautiful and the direction by Chad Hartigan perfectly captures the emotionally beautiful relationship of the two main characters. Olivia Cooke’s Emma and Jack O’Connell’s Jude have a heartwarming and at the same time, a sad relationship, considering the end. 

This film first came on my radar when I came to know about screenwriter Mattson Tomlin, who also worked on The Batman. He adapted this story for the screen from a short story, which was published almost a decade ago, by author Aja Gabe. So yes, the film coming out during a pandemic was pure coincidence but it definitely took a lot from real life to create an accurate depiction of the virus and how people would react to it.

I cannot recommend this movie enough to our readers. It is one of the finest and most gut wrenching films to come out of 2021. At first glance, it might look like any average rom-com. However, I can guarantee you that it will leave you shattered and heartbroken as the last scene closes. 

Watch the trailer here

The Worst Person In The World
(Recommended by our writer Om Chaphekar)

Rewind 2021: Top 5 Movies Of This Year
A still from The Worst Person In The World (Credits: SF Studios/Memento Distributions)

In a year erupting with cinematic behemoths like Dune and Spider-Man: No Way Home, gems like The Worst Person in The World are predictably swept under the rug. But make no mistake, this Norwegian romantic odyssey commands your unwavering attention.

Plot:  An indecisive 30-year old woman named Julie struggles in her dealings with her romantic relationships and her attempts to find a career that she deems fit for herself. 

Why Should You Watch The Worst Person In The World?

Romance is always a fiddly genre. How on Earth do you craft a pair of compelling lovers with a crackling chemistry, striking character depth, and intrigue your audiences without ever straining their attention? Joachim Trier’s 2021 film, The Worst Person in The World, masterfully manages to achieve all of that with its sweeping, oddly melancholic, and yet life-affirming romantic drama.

Tracing the life of Julie, director Trier stages a stunning exploration of an adult’s awkward and often clumsy romantic misadventures, their skeptical and ever-fluctuating life decisions. At the same time, he also portrays a character that absorbs life experiences and grows as a real person. It’s this profound authenticity that powers The Worst Person in The World and elevates the swooning romance at its beating heart. Trier’s film brims with such earnest and relatable protagonists, it becomes astoundingly clear how one character falls for the other, the starry appeal of a new romantic interest, the frustrating notion of deciding one career, what marriage entails, and what it means to be faithful to a partner and to oneself. 

Sure, Julie is perpetually unsure of things, craves intimacy, bears emotional baggage, switches careers in the blink of an eye, is reluctant about commitment, and needs a guiding force in life. But it’s in this wonderfully crafted person that the audience can truly relate to a character. We’ve all felt tragically lost in life, questioned our careers, been doubtful of our partners and our compatibility with them. 

Further propelled by the flawless performances of Renate Reinsve (who rightfully acquired the top prize at Cannes), Anders Danielsen Lie and Herbert Nordrum, The Worst Person in The World navigates the complexities and inevitably messy nature of relationships: the petty arguments, the ever-changing interests, the growing questions of compatibility and the promises of commitment. 

A charming hybrid of Frances Ha and Before Midnight, the film sheds much-needed light on the indecisive, ugly, beautiful, imperfect, and conflicted parts of a relationship while neatly reminding us that we’re ultimately human and only prone to human follies. 

Watch the trailer here

(Recommended by our writer Parnab Bhattacharya

Rewind 2021: Top 5 Movies Of This Year
 Fahadh Faasil in and as Joji  (Credits: Amazon Prime) 

Dileesh Pothan’s third venture, Joji (2021), is loosely based on William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Despite the awful familiarity of that story, Dileesh Pothan, and Syam Pushkaran, the extraordinary director-screenwriter duo, find a way to bring the tumultuous political turmoil of Scotland, inside an affluent family of Erumely, in the hinterlands of Kerala. Rather than adapting the playthey deliberately eschew any pretense of a fact-based re-telling of Macbeth


Watch Joji on Amazon Prime

In Joji, the threat comes not from any outlaw or a usurper. Rather, it is the family members who are caught in a vicious web of toxic masculinity, power, and authority spearheaded by the Panachel family patriarch, Kuttappan  Panachel (PN Sunny), himself. Expectedly, he isn’t the generous and gentle King Duncan of Macbeth, embracing his family members with open arms. Instead, Kuttappan is a burly man, whose intimidating posture also mirrors the core of his personality. His sons Jomon (Babu Raj), Jaison (Joji Mundakayam), and Joji (Fahadh Faasil) are too timid to raise their voices. When Kuttappan suffers from a stroke and miraculously survives, they figure it’s best to handle the matter themselves. Joji, along with his sister-in-law Bincy (Unnimaya Prasad), hatches a sinister plot of murder. But, whereas, Bincy pulls the brake before it’s too late, Joji slides down to the bottom of the pit, to a point of no return. The influence of Macbeth, although not palpable most of the time, nevertheless becomes discernible in these subtle moments.

Why Should You Watch Joji?

Dileesh Pothan is one of the finest filmmakers working in the Malayalam film industry today. Together with screenwriter Syam Pushkaran (Kumbalangi Nights (2019)), he has gifted us with films like Maheshinte Prathikaram (2016) and Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum (2017). Their fascination with crime and punishment is quite noticeable in those earlier films too. 

What makes Joji an atmospheric slow-burn thriller is the deeply troubling nature of a toxic family and the shocking yet inexorable consequences of that. Syam Pushkaran worked around the theme of Macbeth, and steeped it in the Malayali culture- the influence of the Church, the conflict between the Church and the powerful family of an area, the alcoholism of Jomon, which is a growing problem of Kerala- it encompasses everything.  Add to that, Justin Varghese’s background score that belies the tragic undertone, and Fahadh Fassil’s unassuming brilliance, you get a perfect blend of a family drama and a crime thriller with a beguilingly simple plot. 

Joji is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. 

You can watch the trailer here


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