With 2022 in full swing, we look back at 2021 to bring you a roundup of the movies our film reviewer granted the highest of praise to. As this roundup only includes movies available on streaming services, add them to your watchlist ready for a movie night at home.

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Soul (Disney+)

In Pixar’s latest masterpiece, Joe (voice by Jamie Foxx), a talented jazz pianist ground down by the world to teach a middle-school school band, gets his shot at the big time with a famed jazz combo, and is on his way home to get his suit when he falls into a manhole. 

Hell, the music alone — by Bob Dylan, Herbie Hancock, Erykah Badu, Charlie Mingus and Jon Batiste — is worth the ticket price. My only beef is that there could have been more of it. I may watch it again.

Read full review: Soul

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The Personal History of David Copperfield (U-NEXT)

It’s really quite amazing what Scottish director Armando Iannucci (The Death of Stalin) and co-screenwriter Simon Blackwell have done here. They’ve trimmed and reworked an almost 700-page novel to create two boisterous hours of filmed entertainment that remains true, if a little less dour, to the Charles Dickens classic.

It’s the kind of film where you can tell the cast was having fun. You will, too.

Read full review: The Personal History of David Copperfield

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Minari (U-NEXT)

Perusing the American Dream has been a common theme throughout the history of U.S. cinema, but rarely has it been addressed so effectively and with such economy. For Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) that dream is embodied in 50 acres of rich bottomland in 1980s Arkansas, on which he is determined to grow Korean vegetables so he and his skeptical wife Monica (Yeri Han) can quit their mind-numbing jobs as chicken sexers. 

The cinematography is unassuming but breathtaking. Soon you forget the phrase “immigrant experience” — and even the subtitles — and see it for the universal comment on the human condition that it is. 

Read full review: Minari

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Nomadland (Disney+/U-NEXT)

After the financial collapse of the Nevada company town she lives in, Fern (Frances McDormand — hard to picture anyone else in this role) refits her van and hits the road, taking odd gig jobs here and there, sleeping where it’s cheapest and generally exploring life outside normal society.

I can certainly relate to a certain restlessness of spirit. It’s about searching for something, or maybe escaping something, and not even being sure what that something is. Different people will take away different things from this film, but they will probably all mean something.  

Read full review: Nomadland

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Palm Springs (hulu/U-NEXT)

A pair of wedding guests (SNL’s Andy Samberg and the gracefully goofy Cristin Milioti in a long-overdue leading role) developing a budding romance have a memorable day – over and over and over again – when they find themselves stuck in a mystical time loop. 

As you’re laughing at the antics, you’ll be blindsided by the hidden metaphysics and find yourself waxing introspective about your own life – pondering things like the elusiveness of happiness, or the effervescence as well as the resilience of love, or the viability of long-term relationships. Not to be missed.

Read full review: Palm Springs

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Cruella (Disney+/U-NEXT)

Alas, Disney does what it wants, so I dutifully went along to see it, expecting another lame, intensely focus-grouped cash grab. Well, here’s the surprise: I loved it! A totally committed Emma Stone, with her big eyes and expressive face, her comic timing and dramatic chops, is spot-on in the title role, and costume designer Jenny Beavan (Mad Max: Fury Road) is a shoo-in for another Oscar nom.

Read full review: Cruella

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The Lighthouse (U-NEXT)

Two men (Willem Dafoe & Robert Pattinson) arrive at a desolate lighthouse for a one-month stint operating the creaky old navigation device, and long story short, proceed to go mad. 

Eggars breathes new life into the tired old horror genre. First, he’s done this in black and white, and masterfully so, using light and contrast to create a jarring surrealism. Then, he frames his film in a nearly square format that complements and enhances the vaguely 19th-century vibe. It’s at the same time old-school and new age.

Read full review: The Lighthouse

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Supernova (U-NEXT)

Sixty-somethings Sam and Tucker (Colin Firth & Stanley Tucci) set out across Britain in their aging RV to revisit friends and family, and a few places that have had special meaning in their long and loving relationship.

Harry Macqueen firmly established his dramatic chops with 2014’s Hinterland. With Supernova, he has created a heartfelt and heartbreaking drama of rare grace and compassion. Not a lot happens, but it happens beautifully, and the emotional punch is as powerful as it is unexpected.

Read full review: Supernova

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Sound of Metal (U-NEXT/Amazon Prime Video)

An itinerant heavy metal drummer’s life is thrown into a tailspin when he discovers that he’s losing his hearing. While Ruben’s (Riz Ahmed in a career best) first instinct is to “fix it,” to undergo a hugely expensive and uninsured cochlear transplant operation, his girlfriend and bandmate (Olivia Cooke) finds for him a secluded treatment facility, where he is warmly welcomed by his deaf roomies.

Darius Marder’s (The Place Beyond the Pines, Loot) riveting, resonant use of sound pulls you in to Ruben’s world. Nothing is predictable as the story goes ever deeper, without a trace of artifice, right down to the final frame. The ending is perfect.

Read full review: Sound of Metal

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Encanto (Disney+)

The story centers on Mirabel, the only child in the enchanted Madrigal family not blessed with a magical power. Yet even such an awesome family can have its human failings, and when its core magic one day appears to be weakening, Mirabel’s disappointingly deferred gift becomes apparent.

Every character is well developed, it’s funny where it needs to be, there’s not a slow moment, and the inevitable message about the importance of family manages to be sweet without being cloying. The plot will keep you guessing, it boasts a terrific voice cast, it’s gorgeous to look at, and eight stellar, percussive songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda complement the story. Top compliment: It doesn’t feel like a Disney movie.

Read full review: Encanto