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Underappreciated Films of 2021

On Sunday, February 6, 2022, Sounds of Cinema will look back at the movies of last year and reveal this program’s picks of the ten best and worst films of 2021.

Until then, here is a look at some of the underseen and underappreciated films of 2021.


Paul Verhoeven’s newest film was a wild piece of nunsploitation. Based on true events, a seventeenth century nun claims to have visions of Jesus and carries on a sapphic affair with another sister. This throwback to films like Mark of the Devil and Witchfinder General was certainly not for everybody but Benedetta was an outrageous dirty joke of a movie.


The title of CODA is an acronym for Child of Deaf Adults and refers to the title character who is the one member of her family capable of hearing. CODA is a coming-of-age story with a daughter breaking away from her family and encountering romantic love for the first time. It does that story well and the presence of a deaf family gives CODA a unique angle on a familiar formula. Read the full review.

National Champions

Days before the NCAA National Football Championship game, one team’s quarterback (Stephan James) announces that he is boycotting the game unless the NCAA agrees to pay the players and make other concessions. While National Champions is an uneven film, it has pockets of greatness including exceptional performances by Stephan James and J.K. Simmons and Uzo Aduba. Read the full review.

Our Friend

Our Friend was released early in 2021 and failed to get the attention it deserved. Matt Teague (Casey Affleck) is a writer whose wife (Dakota Johnson) is a cancer patient. Their mutual friend Dane (Jason Segel) moves in to help the family. While this is a cancer drama, Our Friend isn’t really about the disease but about the relationships between its three principal characters. Read the full review.

Saint Maud

One of the many great horror films of 2021, Saint Maud is a mix of spiritual meditation and psychological horror. A young woman (Morfydd Clark) who has recently found religion works as a live-in nurse to a terminally ill patient (Jennifer Ehle). The nurse’s devotion to her newfound faith takes a fanatical turn. Read the full review.

The Sparks Brothers

A lot of music documentaries were released in 2021 and Edgar Wright’s retrospective of the band Sparks was the most fun. Covering Sparks’ five decade career and featuring a wide roster of interviewees, the filmmaker’s affection for this band is irresistible. Read the full review.

Swan Song

A bioengineering company offers to make a clone of a terminally ill man (Mahershala Ali) on the condition that he keep the doppelganger a secret from his family. This is a thoughtful sci-fi film that entertains philosophical questions around identity and ethical challenges around genetic engineering. Read the full review.

Swan Song

The other Swan Song of 2021 stars Udo Kier as a former hairdresser who travels from his nursing home to prepare a former client for her funeral showing. Swan Song is funny but melancholic and Kier’s performance deserves more recognition that it has gotten.


Several films have told pandemic stories and Together is probably the best of them so far. Set in the UK during the 2020 coronavirus lockdown, a couple played by James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan reevaluates their relationship. The film is very theatrical and it careens between comedy and heartbreak. Together also points to a hopeful vision of post-pandemic life. Read the full review.

Together Together

A single man (Ed Helms) hires a surrogate (Patti Harrison) to produce a child. The two of them socialize, blurring the boundaries of their relationship. Together Together explores the complexities of the relationships between men and women and the ways human beings bond with one another. It’s a rich movie with a lot of implications but for all of its serious ideas Together Together is also very funny. Read the full review.

Werewolves Within

A group of people in a small Vermont town suspect that they are being stalked by a lycanthrope. Werewolves Within is an effective mix of comedy and horror. It has a kooky sense of humor but doesn’t skimp on the scares either and the result is one of the more fun horror films of 2021.