When I started making these lists in 2008, I was inspired by a random commenter on an AV Club post. Letterboxd didn't exist yet, and I hadn't seen anyone else regularly recap their year of watching movies from previous years. Now, I see lists of "first-time watches" all over social media, sometimes monthly, and I think it's an awesome development, highlighting people's explorations of cinema's past (even if it's just a year or two in the past). Maybe that makes me less special for posting this list every year, but it's still one of my favorite things to do. These are the best movies I watched for the first time in 2021 that were initially released in previous years.
The China Syndrome and Barbarella), and this could fit right alongside them, with another complex, intelligent and alluring Fonda performance. She plays Bree Daniels, a high-end escort in New York City who gets caught up in the investigation of a missing executive. Donald Sutherland plays the title character, the private detective on the case, but this is really Fonda's movie, and she makes Bree into a smart, capable woman who isn't defined or diminished by her profession. The movie has a remarkably forward-thinking perspective on sex work for 1971, never denying Bree her own agency as a person. Often grouped in with Pakula's other 1970s conspiracy thrillers The Parallax View and All the President's Men, Klute is more personal than political, although the way the two seamlessly blend together is part of what makes it great.
Awesome Movie Year, and I almost switched up my pick for the season after seeing it. I'm happy with Point Blank (which topped this list for me in 2019), but Wait Until Dark is an excellent, somewhat underrated thriller, making great use of a single location and a simple home-invasion premise. Audrey Hepburn was deservedly Oscar-nominated for her role as a blind woman facing criminals who break into her house looking for their smuggled drugs. She conveys the character's terror and vulnerability, but also the defiance that she musters to prove that she doesn't deserve to be a victim just because she's disabled. Alan Arkin is devious and menacing as the main villain in the kind of role he doesn't usually play, and Young comes up with new and inventive ways to maintain tension in the confined space.
top 10 list, and this docu-fiction hybrid has many of the same unsettling qualities. It's a deconstruction of the idea of true-crime documentaries -- which have proliferated even further since it was released -- as well as an interrogation of the motives for people's obsessions with the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. Green uses deliberately artificial re-enactments featuring actual members of Ramsey's local community, and she interviews those people about their reactions to and thoughts about the crime. The movie is less interested in investigations and solutions than in perceptions and emotions, using the participants as a reflection of the crime, and vice versa.
HBO Max Christmas offerings. It definitely has a holiday flair, and the climax takes place on Christmas Eve, but it's not quite as Christmassy as many seasonal favorites. It's probably best known now as the source material for the Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks rom-com You've Got Mail (which I've never seen), but it's more than just a love story between two bickering retail employees (played by James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan) who don't realize they're secretly romantic pen pals. It's a witty, warm portrait of all the employees at this little shop in Budapest, the community that forms among workers and the ways they come together in the face of their various emotional and financial struggles.
Honorable mentions: The Tall Target (Anthony Mann, 1951); A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (Will Becher & Richard Phelan, 2019)