Selecting what to watch or listen to can be a quick decision, or it can be one that is quickly overwhelming. With a spillover of delayed content from 2020 released this year instead, as well as the increase in content from likes of Disney+, Apple+, Netflix and more, never has there been so much, possibly too much, to enjoy. So how does one choose? Is it based on recommendations of friends, from new trending top tens from various platforms, random discovery, whatever is the new it show (hello Squid Game, bye Tiger King) or or or or or….decision paralysis is a real thing. It’s a good problem to have, but for those who don’t want to miss out and have limited time to to make the best selection, choosing wisely is imperative, cue hopefully this helpful overview. Cue this best of pop culture list of lists (which features the 10 best movies, 10 best tv shows, 10 best albums and 10 best songs) to help in your search.
Through deliberate and meticulous time spent in all things pop culture, except podcasts (sorry not sorry), below is my list of the best of what the year 2021 had to offer in film, television and music. Simply put, if it’s great and worthy of your time, it belongs here on the best of 2021. And speaking of great, greatness was in large supply this past year. From tremendous literature adaptations (Dune, The Green Knight, The Power of the Dog…) and increased diversity and representation (Reservation Dogs, The Wheel of Time, The Harder They Fall…) to infectious music from talented artists from all over the world (La Femme, Vince Staples, Karol G, Travis Thompson…), there is bound to be something on this list to satisfy your pop culture cravings.
As always, time is a currency we all don’t want to spend deeply of, so please peruse the lists below wisely and fill your coffers, my friends, with the best of pop culture that 2021 had to offer!
The 10 Best Movies of 2021
THE GREEN KNIGHT, COME TRUE, MALIGNANT, THE IMMORTAL, THE HARDER THEY FALL, ANNETTE, ARMY OF THIEVES, SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS, SHIVA BABY, RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON, NINE DAYS
A more than worthy follow-up, Candyman both satisfies fans of the original while maintaining its own vision and purpose.
9. ABOUT ENDLESSNESS
A deep, thought-provoking and existentially witty “film” told in a unique kaleidoscope approach to storytelling.
8. THE POWER OF THE DOG
Jane Campion’s adaption of the novel from 1967 is a memerzing slow burn that is sure to surprise.
Nic Cage, check. A truffle pig, check. Revenge film, check. Watch the linked trailer if you need more reasons to watch, but you shouldn’t.
6. WEREWOLVES WITHIN
Horror comedy at its finest, with a terrific cast led by the criminally underrated Sam Richardson.
5. SAINT MAUD
The best horror film the year is truly unsettling and has an absolutely searing ending that sticks with you.
4. RIDERS OF JUSTICE
A Danish action drama, led by the incomparable Mads Mikkelsen at his moody best, is a must watch.
A truly absurd story that pits man vs. machine in one of the most interesting films of the year.
Denis Villeneuve takes on the challenge of adapting one of the most famous sci-fi novels of all-time and man oh man does he succeed. What a knockout in every way.
1. THE ALPINIST
Not just the best documentary of the year, but purely the best film. Watching Marc-André Leclerc climb is like watching Michael Jordan in his prime, the man is legend.
The 10 Best TV Shows of 2021
MADE FOR LOVE (HBO Max), DAVE (FX on Hulu), MARE OF EASTTOWN (HBO), LOKI (Disney+), RESIDENT ALIEN (SYFY), ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING (Hulu), DEXTER: NEW BLOOD (Showtime), TED LASSO (Apple TV+), INSECURE (HBO Max), CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (HBO), MYTHIC QUEST (Apple TV+), NINE PERFECT STRANGERS (Hulu), THE MORNING SHOW (Apple TV+), THE OTHER TWO (HBO Max), YOU (Netflix), SUCCESSION (HBO Max)
10. WANDAVISION (Disney+)
The power of grief combined with the power of the Scarlet Witch is the potion for tv magic, especially in the hands of Elizabeth Olsen.
9. ACAPULCO (Apple TV+)
Ted Lasso meets The Princess Bride in a show that exudes positivity and is just a pleasure to spend time with.
8. THE WHEEL OF TIME (Amazon Prime)
The task of bring Robert Jordan’s epic series to life is daunting, but so far, so very very very good.
7. NARCOS: MEXICO (Netflix)
Like a real life Game of Thrones, this deeply engrossing depiction of drug trafficking in Mexico is heartbreakingly great.
6. SEARCH PARTY (HBO Max)
It’s should be difficult to root for any of these truly loathsome characters, especially Drew, yet you must. Right?
5. SQUID GAME (Netflix)
The Korean-language sensation, don’t watch dubbed, is worth all the hype. Watch it or watch out. The doll sees all.
4. WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (FX on Hulu)
A hilarious, no-holds-barred riot of a good time that gets better and better with each season. Even energy vampires would agree enthusiastically.
3. GOMORRAH (HBO Max)
The penultimate season of this engrossing Italian-language crime drama is simply extraordinary.
2. RESERVATION DOGS (FX on Hulu)
A knockout debut season for a show that highlights the Indigenous community throughout intimate storytelling, deep care and a terrific cast.
1. HACKS (HBO Max)
The simple concept of the odd couple pairing shouldn’t be must watch tv, but with Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder, it does, it really really really does.
The 10 Best Albums of 2021
Death of a Cheerleader, Pom Pom Squad; Daddy’s Home, St. Vincent; Punk, Young Thug; Juno, Remi Wolf; ULTRAMODERN, Ruen Brothers; Comfort To Me, Amyl and The Snifters; Off the Yak, Young M.A; Planet (i), Squirrel Flower; Parallel Timeline, Slothrust; Long Time Coming, Sierra Ferrell; KIDS, Noga Erez; Year of the Spider, Shannon & The Clams
10. if i could make it go quiet, girl in red
A standout album from a young newcomer from Norway about romance and mental health that’s brings all the emotion. All of it.
Standout Tracks: “Seratonin,” “Did You Come?,” “You Stupid Bitch,” “Rue”
9. Friends That Break Your Heart, James Blake
Clever wordplay, catchy hooks and a voice that is as unique as it is enticing. Um, yes please!
Standout Tracks: “Frozen,” “I’m So Blessed You’re Mine,” “Life Is Not The Same,” “Coming Back”
8. Culture III, Migos
Migos are ATL music royalty who can’t stop delivering uber-confident bangers (bangers).
Standout Tracks: “Avalanche,” “Straightenin,” “Light It Up,” “Need It,” “Antisocial”
7. The Battle at Garden’s Gate, Greta Van Fleet
This literal band of brother delivers a true throwback American rock album that is dripping in big ballads.
Standout Tracks: “Broken Bells,” “Light My Love,” “Heat Above,” “Age of Machine”
6. Mercy, Natalie Bergman
A deeply powerful exploration of grief and faith by a heartbroken Bergman who recently lost her father unexpectedly to a drunk driver.
Standout Tracks: “Shine Your Light on Me,” “Talk to the Lord,” “He Will Lift You up Higher,”
5. Vince Staples, Vince Staples
The uber-talented Staples continues to surprise and impress with this self-titled introspective stunner.
Standout Tracks: “ARE YOU WITH THAT?,” “MHM,” “TAKE ME HOME,” “LAW OF AVERAGES”
4. Thirstier, TORRES
Can’t say it any better than TORRES does in the album, “The more of you I drink, the thirstier I get.“
Standout Tracks: “Hug From a Dinosaur,” “Thirstier,” “Don’t Go Puttin Wishes in My Head”
3. BLVD BOY, Travis Thompson
This “lil’ Navajo” from Seattle is an emerging young talent who is about to be huge. Check. Him. Out.
Standout Tracks: “7-11,” “Odd Jobs,” “Dead Prezis,” “Nikes,” “Dylan Cole”
2. Paradigmes, La Femme
A cheeky, wholly absurd French take on that idealist American road trip that is fun and immersive.
Standout Tracks: “Cool Colorado,” “Le Jardin,” “Pasadena,” “Disconnexion,” “Va”
1. HEY WHAT, Low
Ambient, distorted, minimalism at its finest. A truly complete and visceral album worth getting lost in.
Standout Tracks: “Days Like These,” “More” “White Horses,” “Disappearing”
The 10 Best Songs of 2021
“Avalanche,” Migos; “fitt,” Dua Selah; “Right on Time,” Brandi Carlile; “Driver’s License,” Olivia Rodrigo; “Easy On Me,” Adele; “Holy Rose,” Fruit Bats; “Bichota,” Karol G; “Venom,” Jesswar; “Have Mercy,” Chlöe; “Everybody’s Birthday,” Hana Va; “Her,” Poppy; “Flip the Script,” Tony K; “Atlantic,” The Weather Station; “ARE YOU WITH THAT?,” Vince Staples; “Same Size Shoe,” serpentwithfeet; “The Storm In You,” Ruen Brothers; “Flames and Flat Tires,” Squirrel Flower
10. “Chaise Longue,” Wet Leg
Brash, direct and full heart, Wet Leg, a duo from the Isle of Wight, come right for the juggler. And their music video (see link) is pure perfection to boot.
Standout Lyric: “Is your muffin buttered? Would you like us to assign someone to butter your muffin?“
9. “7-11” Travis Thompson (feat. Juicy J)
Burien, a suburb of Seattle, is home to this uber-talented and increasingly confident young rapper. Slushie anyone?
Standout Lyric:“Yeah, you ain’t never seen a lil’ Navajo with a hundred thousand in a duffle, huh?“
8 “Working For The Knife,” Mitski
The double-edge sword of fame and being forgotten is at the heart of the ever honest Mitksi. Preach!
Standout Lyric: “‘I always knew the world moves on; I just didn’t know it would go without me.”‘
7. “Cludder,” JID
JID, a moniker derived from his grandma’s nickname based on his “jittery” behavior, hails from Atlanta like so many of the great rappers and he’s my choice for artist of the year.
Standout Lyric: “They ain’t dribblin’, they travelin’, they ain’t civil, they savages; Wrist little, they shootin’ like Shawn Marion, accurate.“
6. “Cranium,” Slothrust
Surreal yet relatable, this track explores trying to serve love and not knowing the right way, like at all.
Standout Lyric: “I want to Frеnch braid your hair with honey on my hands.”
5. “Days Like These,” Low
A literal song of the times that is douses you in the still rising of the wave crazy times we still live in.
Standout Lyric: “When you think you’ve seen everything, you’ll find we’re living in days like these.”
4. “I Lied,” Lorn Huron, Allison Ponthier
A haunting and beautiful duet for the ages with promises of a love eternal broken in equal measure.
Standout Lyric: “I bore a flame that burned a thousand suns for you, but it died.“
3. “Pepas,” Farruko
A worldwide megahit that dares you not move to the intoxicating rhythm of this deeply infectious beat.
Standout Lyric: “Hoy vamo’ a darle hasta que se haga de día.“
2. “Change,” Big Thief
The power and fragility that Adrianne Lenker brings to this slow walk of a track is simply awe-some.
Standout Lyric: “Death, like a door, to a place, we’ve never been before.“‘
1. “Cool Colorado,” La Femme
The best track of the year comes from the French band La Femme that invites you to chill out and relax.
Standout Lyric: “It’s rad Dude, and you don’t give a f*ck, and just going high, so high.”