A year ago, we went into the summer of 2020 wringing our hands and gnashing our teeth over postponed blockbusters, perpetually punted-down-the-line release dates, the state of an industry teetering on the precipice and the future of communal moviegoing overall. Now, as we hit the halfway mark of 2021, we can breathe slightly easier — literally and figuratively — as we start gingerly returning to theaters, festivals begin to kick back into in-person mode and studios schlep out much-anticipated, long-delayed films that had been gathering dust on DCP shelves. More importantly, we can return to focusing more on the movies themselves, as opposed to continually having to take the medium’s temperature. It wasn’t as if great films hadn’t come out in 2020; we had no problem filling our year-end list last December. It just felt as if the conversation about what represented the best of a crazy, gamechanging, rip-it-up-and-start-again 12 months was laced with the dread that we were somehow witnessing a series of last gasps.
Once again, reports of cinema’s death have proven to be premature. And once again, we find ourselves with a bounty of great work before we’ve even hit the fall season. These 16 movies from the first half of 2021 — some older festival titles finally coming to the general public and some straight outta streaming-services, some from first timers and some from old-timers, some with recognizable names attached and some just north of the avant-garde border — couldn’t be more of an eclectic mix. But they all stand out as reminding us that it’s already been a very, very good year for cinephiles.