Time is the most precious commodity, and more often than not, when you want to watch a movie you may not have the time to watch a two and half hour rock opera or a four-hour blockbuster that definitely didn’t need to be four hours. For those spaces in your schedule when you’re winding down for the day, have a break from work, or have a finite time before your kids wake up and start painting the walls, what you need is a movie that delivers everything you’re looking for in a refined package.
For just that need, I have crafted a list of some of the best movies of 2021 (so far) that manage to be funny, thrilling, shocking, terrifying, illuminating, and/or heartbreaking in the span of fewer than 100 minutes. With all of these movies ready to stream or rent at your fingertips, they each excellently cater to any mood you’re in for the short amount of time you have to be in it – and I won’t waste any time explaining why.
Saint maud (84 Minutes)
Horror movies from A24 are essentially a genre in and of themselves at this point – complex slow burns with grim, dark atmospherics. With Rose Glass’ Saint maud you’ll get all that and more with this story about a nurse going through an unsettling crisis of faith that leads into a deadly messiah complex. Come because A24 found another horror gem, stay because Glass’ unforgettably haunting approach and Morfydd Clark’s stellar work refuse to let you go.
Pig (92 Minutes)
In between the straight-to-DVD action movies Nicolas cage manages to sneak in some of the best work of his career, and with Pig, he’s so good it’s enough to forgive him for Left Behind. As a man hunting down his stolen truffle pig across the surprisingly seedy Portland restaurant scene, Cage delivers his most restrained and deeply effective work in 20 years, forming a bond with a pig we would all be so lucky to have with a real person. Alongside writer/director Michael Sarnoski’s mostly gentle, sometimes wild approach to this story about what we choose to hold onto and let go of, Pig will break your little human heart.
Shiva Baby (78 Minutes)
The scariest movie of the year features no zombies, ghosts, demons, or metaphors about grief – but it does have lots of bagels and burdening sets of expectations. Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby is a masterpiece of nail-biting tension that can lead to gut-busting humor, all set during a shiva where Danielle (Rachel Sennott) must deal with an onslaught of family members who can’t help but grill her about school, her love life, and career. Fantastic work all around – including Ariel marx’s terrifically terrifying score – make this the most rewarding and unnerving 70+ minutes you’ll experience this year.
Nobody (92 Minutes)
Before Nobody, the concept of “Bob Odenkirk, Action Star” wasn’t something the world knew it needed. Now, it’s something none of us can live without. The Better Call Saul star threw down like the best in the biz in this kinetic, darkly comic action thriller that sets up the potential for even more ass-kicking in future entries, and offers up yet another reason why he is a national treasure who must be protected at all costs.
Together Together (90 Minutes)
A showcase for the fantastic performances from stars Patti Harrison and Ed Helms, writer/director Nikole Beckwith’s story about a man seeking out a surrogate uses its brief runtime to explore modern perceptions of relationships and parenthood. Finding humor in their awkward beginnings, Beckwith doesn’t waste a frame mining the small moments that bring Harrison and Helms closer together, building up to a tear-streaming finale that should rightly make Harrison a household name.
Luca (95 Minutes)
Pixar at some of their most breezily, simply entertaining, this journey across the scenic Italian countryside is all about the clear blue water, radiant hillsides, and the bond of two young sea monsters trying to live life on land to the fullest. It’s not their biggest or best movie, but it’s as effortlessly enjoyable as a lovely meal overlooking the Mediterranean, filled with gorgeous visuals, big laughs, and soulful storytelling.
Censor (84 Minutes)
One of the many great horror movies that could easily fly under the radar in any given year, Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor takes place during, and is a homage to, the Video Nasty era in England. Niamh Algar plays Enid, an especially strict film censor who believes that her sister, who has been missing for years, was used in a recent film by a provocative exploitation filmmaker. A visceral debut, Bailey-Bond uses the quick runtime to explore a winding mystery that becomes increasingly unsettling as she uses a specific era in movie history to explore mental health and bloody violence in cinema.
Till Death (88 Minutes)
Megan Fox has been stepping into more genre fare over the last few years, and as long as she keeps finding projects like Till Death then I’m here for all of it. Placing Fox in what is essentially a giant, frozen Saw trap, director SK Dale throws her through the ringer as her character Emma is forced to lug around the corpse of her husband (Callan Mulvey). A survival thriller unlike any you’ll see this year, there’s the added benefit of seeing Fox at some of her best.
Misha and the Wolves (90 Minutes)
Want to watch a good true crime documentary on Netflix, but don’t want to groan when you realize the one you picked is actually a 10-part series that ends with ‘So, long story short, we have no idea”? Then the always fascinating Misha and the Wolves is for you. At only 90 minutes, director Sam Hobkinson sticks to the key elements of an investigation into the life of a woman whose story of survival after the Holocaust seemed too impossible to be true for an effective, absorbing mystery that never dilutes the shocking details with needless padding.
The Boy Behind the Door (88 Minutes)
Alongside another of their recent indie horror outings, The Djinn, The Boy Behind the Door is further proof directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell are names to look out for. While it can be a little rough around the edges, this story about a boy trying to save his friend from imprisonment after the two were kidnapped remains endlessly nail-biting from start to finish. The directing duo squeezes their limited resources for all their worth, effectively using a single location and refusing to pull back punches for the young stars, throwing them into one dire aspect after another while never losing the heart of the friendship at its core.
Vivo (99 Minutes)
Sony Animation’s Vivo doesn’t use its 99 minutes to tell the most original story, but that doesn’t really matter when you’re hypnotized by the cascade of colors and infectious songs. Featuring the starring voice work and original songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Vivo from director Kirk DeMicco (who co-wrote the script with Quiara Alegria Hudes) puts the big numbers front and center and, just when it’s starting to feel a bit too familiar, finds its own unique burst of energy.
Werewolves Within (97 Minutes)
While Sonic the Hedgehog and Detective Pikachu might have brought in the coins at the box office, Werewolves Within is officially the video game movie to beat. Featuring this year’s funniest ensemble so far, this Agatha Christie-esque horror-comedy-mystery injects huge laughs and timely themes into a well-worn genre, while never forgetting to be genuinely suspenseful. The laughs are big, the chills crawl up the spine, and – most importantly – Sam Richardson solidifies his leading man status.
Zola (90 Minutes)
Some real-life stories are too crazy to be true, but Aziah “Zola” King’s bonkers, hilarious tale of greed, deception, and general chaos was definitely true, and director Janicza Bravo brought it to life with this year’s Zola. A festival darling that finally hit theaters this year after debuting at Sundance in 2020, Bravo captures the humor, sexiness, danger, and pure insanity of Zola’s spontaneous road trip from Detroit to Florida with a strong visual eye and breakneck pace. With a strong set of performances from Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Nicholas Braun, and Colman Domingo, Zola – just like the Twitter thread that brought the story to the world – is impossible to step away from once you start.
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One huge plate of lore with a side of continuity salad.
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