There are many ways to craft the “best” list to sum up the year. From the most talked-about dresses, to the most beloved beauty products, there are endless ways to put together a list that encapsulates what the year has been about. Perhaps you will remember 2021 for being the second year in the never-ending COVID-19 pandemic, or maybe 2021 marked the beginning of a more open conversation about self-care, mindfulness and greater representation for minorities and marginalised communities. If, like us, your past year has been an anxious roller-coaster you can’t wait to step off, here are 12 empowering movies and television series to boost you into the new year.
The COVID-19 pandemic will be remembered for its many inconveniences towards the entertainment industry. From blockbuster delays to having to shoot under stringent COVID-19 protocols, 2021 marks the second year of an entertainment industry bogged down by pandemic restrictions. The silver lining, however, lies in how the crisis has torn open long-standing biases and created an environment for greater representation both on and off the silver screen. From female-fronted to female-directed movies, 2021 is the year women evolved from playing the alluring sidekick to holding their own as stars in their own right.
Catch The Lost Daughter, Passing or Bruised to celebrate the directorial debuts of Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Hall and Halle Berry respectively. Or hit ‘play’ on Maid, Parallel Mothers, Motherly and Spencer for a watch that embraces the themes of motherhood and parental love. Disney’s Encanto makes for a lighthearted viewing experience, while Last Night in Soho and The Power of the Dog highlight darker themes relating to abuse and violence.
If the shows on this list sound familiar to you, consider this your reason to go back and rewatch them in preparation for the new year. Trust us, you won’t regret it.
1 / 12
The Lost Daughter
Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut The Lost Daughter uncovers a side of motherhood that is rarely seen on the big screen. The cast—comprising Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson and Jessie Buckley—is a celebration of womanhood in itself.
Watch The Lost Daughter on Netflix now.
2 / 12
From Marvel’s Eternals’ Lauren Ridloff to A Quiet Place Part II’s Millicent Simmonds, studios are paying more attention to issues of representation and inclusivity. CODA—which stands for Child Of Deaf Adults—takes the conversation one step further by shining a spotlight on the people who form part of the deaf community, and who might not be deaf themselves.
Watch CODA on Apple TV+ now.
3 / 12
Alex (Margaret Qualley) is a young mother who takes on a new job cleaning houses in the hopes of building a better future for her daughter. The Netflix limited series highlights issues of poverty, domestic violence, generational abuse and what it takes to break free of the cycle and start anew.
Watch Maid on Netflix now.
4 / 12
The lives of two women, Janis (Penélope Cruz) and Ana (Milena Smit), coincide when they share a hospital room before giving birth. Both are single and become pregnant by accident. Their reactions to their pregnancy, however, could not be more different. Where Janis is excited and exultant, Ana is fearful and traumatised by what is to come. Written and directed by Spain’s most internationally acclaimed film director Pedro Almodóvar, Parallel Mothers unpacks themes of heritage, family and motherhood.
Watch Parallel Mothers on Apple TV now.
5 / 12
The latest from The Horror Collective, Motherly, is a test of a mother’s love. Directed by Craig David Wallace, the suspenseful thriller poses the question: What would you do for your child?
Watch Motherly on Apple TV now.
6 / 12
The directorial debut of Rebecca Hall unpacks the phenomenon of ‘passing’, where African-Americans who had skin colour light enough to be perceived as white were able to assimilate into America’s white majority and escape the racial discrimination of the 20th century. Shot entirely in black-and-white, Passing is an insightful watch that covers social issues that are relevant even today.
Watch Passing from Netflix now.
7 / 12
Academy Award winner Halle Berry’s directorial debut Bruised tells the story of disgraced MMA fighter Jackie Justice (Halle Berry). Four years after forfeiting a major fight, Jackie must find the courage to face her demons and step back into the cage when her son reenters her life.
Watch Bruised on Netflix now.
8 / 12
Sandra Bullock stars as Ruth Slater, a woman released from prison after spending the last 20 years behind bars. As she tries to rebuild her life on the outside, she is faced with a society that shuns her and a family that refuses to forgive her. Her one remaining shot at redemption? To reconnect with her estranged younger sister (Aisling Franciosi).
Watch The Unforgiveable on Netflix now.
9 / 12
Kristen Stewart stars in the latest Princess Diana adaptation. Directed by Pablo Larraín, the film imagines the tense last holiday leading up to the royal divorce.
Watch Spencer on Amazon now.
10 / 12
The Power of the Dog
When it is a movie directed by Jane Campion, the first female filmmaker to receive the Palme d’Or, you can be sure that you are in for something special. Like the rest of Campion’s works, feminism takes centre stage and The Power of the Dog is no different, with a unique take on power, masculinity and the pressures of keeping up appearances.
Watch The Power of the Dog on Netflix now.
11 / 12
Encanto tells the story of Mirabel Madrigal, an ordinary girl born into a magical family. In her struggle to carve a place for herself amongst her gifted family, Mirabel discovers that her family’s powers are weakening along with the truth behind their magical gifts. An uplifting tale about family, community and love, Encanto is the charming watch you need to end the year on a good note.
Watch Encanto on Disney+ now.
12 / 12
Last Night in Soho
Edgar Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns team up in Last Night in Soho, a psychological horror film that showcases just how wrong it is to romanticise the past. Touching on themes of female exploitation, sexual violence and mental illness, Last Night in Soho is a gritty and gripping re-enactment of London’s Swinging Sixties.
Watch Last Night in Soho on Apple TV now.