From In The Heights to Encanto and West Side Story, 2021 was a time for change and growth when it comes to films. That’s why Remezcla staff has come together to make a list of the top films of 2021 that left us feeling inspired, awed, or just like we watched something we’ve never seen before. And we’re not limiting ourselves either.
We’re also including the top films of 2021 that had Latine talent as well. So of course, films like Vivo and Jockey will be on this list. But others like Candyman or Land will also join us because of the talented actors that helped bring these stories to life. And hopefully, along the way, you’ll be inspired to check out ones you haven’t watched and support creators and actors from our communities.
In the Heights
Though In the Heights could have done a better job at representing our communities, it was still a landmark moment, and it opened up the door for conversations about how we could do better. Plus, it brought the stories of places and people who are usually relegated to the background into the spotlight, and it did so with joy and catchy songs. A movie is more than the conversations around it, but the conversations around it help frame what makes a movie important. And In The Heights wasn’t just a fun movie with good messages, it was hopefully the beginning of more inclusive stories for our communities. – Lissete
In Language Lessons, director Natalie Morales plays a virtual Spanish teacher living in Costa Rica who begins a friendship online with one of her adult students. When tragedy strikes the student’s life, the two learn how to maneuver their way through a platonic relationship that only happens between meetings through video chat. The chemistry between Morales and co-star Mark Duplass is tangible, and the format Morales chooses to tell the story never feels gimmicky or trite. Watching a friendship blossom like this is an authentic and rewarding experience. – Kiko
Disney has rarely delivered as much for our communities as Encanto did, from the Colombian setting to the numerous archetypes it explored. But Encanto wasn’t just about its setting, it was about its characters, and a family that wasn’t at all perfect, but that was still worth fighting for. Mirabel might not have had a gift like her family, but through her, we remembered that it wasn’t just okay to be who we were, it was enough. And that’s the kind of message that stays with you. – Lissete
Land is a movie that was far underrated in 2021. Not only was it the directorial debut for Robin Wright, but more importantly, it starred Demián Bichir. The Mexican actor has had some success in America but it isn’t near enough. Bichir is one of the few actors who can emote a scene or emotion with his expressions. A feeling can be translated to the audience simply by his eyes, a talent that not many humans possess. He lends that talent to Land and his performance in the film is one of the many reasons it should land on your must-see list. – Toni
Art has an uncanny way of imitating art and Candyman definitely delivers thanks to Colman Domingo, who plays William Burke. The character is the wise companion that you find in any horror film but Domingo takes it to another level. He brings wit, calmness, and a reassurance that you struggle to accept. Yet, the entire time, Domingo just embodies the role and becomes that guiding light you need to feel safe while watching everything unfold. You’ll want a William Burke in your life after watching Candyman. – Jorge Rodriguez-Jimenez
Blockbuster superhero films don’t usually look the way Eternals looked, like it belonged not just to the same people media has always belonged to, but everyone. And that’s what made Eternals, despite the fact that, at times, it tried to do too much, a must-watch movie. Big stakes, sweeping spectacle, and heroes who aren’t always perfect, who struggle with mental health issues just like us, are just the icing on the cake. Plus, there’s Salma Hayek as the most powerful Eternal of them all. – Lissete
Eugenio Derbez shows his range as a performer with his supporting role in the coming-of-age, family dramedy CODA. Short for “Child of Deaf Adult,” the film features Derbez as a high school choir teacher who discovers that one of his students has a great chance of landing a music scholarship with some extra practice. What makes her story incredible is that she is the only hearing member of her family. Derbez brings humor and charm to the picture as the inspiring teacher, and the script by writer and director Sian Heder is tender and emotionally resonant. – Kiko
In a year where animated movies were chock full of Latine talent, Vivo was a standout that deserved more attention. The option for children today to see themselves reflected back from TV or film screens is a gigantic one and its impact cannot be overstated. Can you imagine what that could have done for our community if more films like Vivo were available to us as kids? Well, our kids don’t have that same problem. Vivo is colorful, full of adventure, and has animated characters speaking in both Spanish and English. How wonderful is that! – Toni
Clifton Collins Jr. delivers the best performance of his career in Jockey, the story of a veteran horse jockey whose body is failing him, making it impossible to continue to do what he loves. Complicating things further is the introduction of a young jockey into the racing circuit who might be his son. Collins Jr. electrifies the screen with his touching portrayal of a man who may be at the end of his journey, but at the beginning of another. It’s an intimate character study by director and co-writer Clint Bentley that gives Collins all the tools he needs to prove how versatile he is. It’s an impressive combination of passion and vulnerability. Once Collins Jr. hits the homestretch, he never looks back. – Kiko
West Side Story
West Side Story has long been revered as one of the most important musicals of all time. It gave us the icon Rita Moreno and allowed audiences to see the Puerto Rican community on screen, some for the first time in their lives. Reverence should be paid to the original. And the same is true for the remake. The 2021 West Side Story shows that our community is as vibrant and rich as ever, and includes talent like Ariana DeBose and Rachel Zegler. We are as relevant as ever, even if it is telling a story as old as time. – Toni