The Best of 2021 from Topic

12.27.2021

Sure, few people would call 2021 the Best Year Ever, but in terms of TV and movies, it was a fantastic one. We had Oscar-nominated films, timely stories about the criminal justice system, race relations and transgender rights, plus fresh, innovative crime series from around the world. Here are some of the best and brightest (and also darkest, but in a good way) titles from 2021. It’s not too late for one last binge.

Critically Acclaimed Programming

Film poster art for The Letter Room starring Oscar Isaac.
Oscar Isaac and brother, Mike Hernandez in The Letter Room.

The Letter Room

Oscar Isaac stars in this moving Oscar-nominated short film about a corrections officer in charge of reading prisoner mail, who gets swept up in the letters from one particular inmate’s old girlfriend (Alia Shawkat). The production is a family affair: Isaac’s real life wife, Elvira Lind wrote and directed the film, and his brother Mike Hernandez has a small role. At just 32 minutes running time, The Letter Room proves you don’t need two hours to make a big impression.

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Poster art for the award-winning TV series, Philly D.A.
Philadelphia District Attorney, Larry Krasner

Philly DA

This Gotham Award-winning doc series has all the makings of far fetched crime drama: a stubborn yet charismatic civil rights attorney mounts a long shot District Attorney campaign in crime-ridden Philadelphia, promising to upend the criminal justice system from within. Against all odds, he wins in a landslide. But this isn’t some fictional story, it’s a gripping 8-part documentary about real life Philly DA Larry Krasner.

International Cult Hits

Poster art for the international cult hit TV series, The Killing (Forbrydelsen)
Detective Sarah Lund played by Sofie Gråbøl

The Killing (​​Forbrydelsen)

To say The Killing has a rabid fan base is an understatement, considering that even the main character’s sweater has a cult following. Straight out of Denmark and streamed exclusively on Topic in the US, this tasty bit of Scandi Noir is known for its unexpected plot twists and season-long storylines. Follow pensive, brusque, Faroe Isle sweater-rocking detective Sarah Lund as she slowly becomes consumed by obsession with every dark, twisty murder case she tries to solve.

Poster art for the international cult hit TV series The Bridge (Bron/Broen)
Sofia Helin plays the iconic detective, Saga Norén

The Bridge (Bron/Broen)

They say The Bridge is the show that kicked off the whole Nordic Noir genre and what a kickoff it was. In this beloved series, set on the Øresund Bridge connecting Sweden and Denmark, nothing is quite what it seems: not cold, blunt, insensitive detective Detective Saga Norén and not the series’ inaugural investigation, a woman’s body that appears to have been cut in half at the waist. Shown in more than 100 countries, The Bridge has won major awards in both Sweden (Kristallen) and Denmark (The Robert).

New to the U.S.

Poster art for Russian hit TV series, An Ordinary Woman
Award winning actress, Anna Mikhalkova plays the indomitable Marina in An Ordinary Woman.

An Ordinary Woman Seasons 1 and 2

Marina, the titular “ordinary woman” in this Russian dramedy is just like any middle-aged mom. She struggles to balance running her flower shop and her household (birthday parties, her teenager’s boyfriend, etc); plus, there’s the matter of the top escort from her top secret, high end sex worker ring, lying dead in a luxury hotel room. You know, normal mom stuff.

Poster art for the second season of the Belgian hit, Beau Sejour.
Well-known and well-regarded Belgian actor, Gene Bervoets plays the patriarch Maurice in Beau Sejour.

Beau Sejour Season 2

The long-awaited second season of Beau Sejour hit American shores this Fall. In season 2, we meet Maurice, and he has some issues. His grown daughters are all estranged and angry with him for various reasons, most people act as if they can’t see or hear him, and his young grandson has gone missing. But Maurice’s biggest problem? He’s dead. Police think he died by suicide, but Maurice knows that’s not the case, and he’s taken it upon himself to solve his own murder.

Season 3 poster art for Baron Noir -- the show that critics call a mix between House of Cards and The Sopranos.
Kad Merad returns as The Black Baron himself, Philippe Rickwaert.

Baron Noir Season 3

It’s the West Wing meets The Sopranos meets House of Cards, only French. Philippe Rickwaert will do anything to exact revenge on Socialist presidential candidate Francois Laugier, his ex-friend and mentor who sacrificed him to save his campaign. In season 3, Phillippe runs for president and the political games are afoot once again. Sabotage, backstabbing, shady politicians…ooh la la!

Poster art for the French Canadian hit Happily Married (Cest comme ça que je t’aime).
Sometimes friendship and marriage can get a bit complicated...

Happily Married

The Delisles and the Paquettes are happily married the same way Marina is an “ordinary woman.” In this Canadian dark comedy set in Quebec City in the 70’s, two couples drop their kids off at summer camp, discover their marriages are far from perfect, and react, naturally, by going on a murderous crime rampage. Filled with offbeat, sharp dialogue, “Happily Married” paints a hilarious picture of domestic life that’s anything but boring.

Poster art for the Russian TV series based on true events, Dead Mountain: The Dyatlov Pass Incident
KGB Major, Oleg Kostin on the case in the Ural Mountains.

Dead Mountain

This chilling thriller out of Russia is based on the de-classified files of the real-life Dyatlov Pass Incident: nine students who set out on a ski trek in the icy Ural Mountains in January 1959 and never reached their destination. For years, people have speculated about how the students met their violent death – was it an avalanche, a KGB operation, the indigenous Mansi people, aliens, or even a yeti? Cuddle up with something or someone warm while you watch Major Kostin, a KGB officer with a sixth sense and a haunted past, investigate the horrifying deaths and their unusual connection to his own mysterious history.

Poster art for the TV series, Dark Woods, based on the true events of the so-called “Göhdre-Morde” in West Germany.
Detective Anne Bach searching for the suspect.

Dark Woods

Also inspired by a real life case, Dark Woods takes place in Germany, where Police Chief Thomas Bethge is haunted by one particular missing person case: his sister’s. It’s been 30 years since she disappeared, and between an uncooperative local police force and the challenges of a case long gone cold, he has his work cut out for him. But with the help of determined rookie investigator Anne Bach, Bethge inches closer and closer to solving the mystery, as well as its possible connection to a series of macabre killings in the woods known as the Isefort murders.

Can’t Miss Classics

Poster art for the TV series, Hostages (Bnei Aruba).
SWAT team readying.

Hostages

Skip the cardio and get your heart-rate up by watching this gripping Israeli thriller. The night before her big surgery on the Israeli Prime Minister, surgeon Yael Danon finds her family taken hostage. The hostage-takers demands? Kill the PM in order to save her family’s lives. As family drama unfolds and problems between the intruders escalate, the excitement level ratchets up.

Poster art for the TV series, Follow the Money (Bedrag).
Danish acting vet Thomas Bo Larsen plays Mads Justesen.

Follow the Money

How do you solve an employee’s suspicious murder at a large sustainable energy company exhibiting suspicious amounts of growth? The answer lies in this Danish financial crime series’ title, reminiscent of Billions. With a corrupt CEO, plenty of overly ambitious employees, and a crime syndicate and cartels involved, following the money is always a safe place to start. See why this riveting, slow-burn thriller has won Danish Film Awards (the Robert) for best series, best actor and best actress.

The Millennium Trilogy

This movie trilogy, based on the best-selling and award-winning novels by journalist Stieg Larsson, features one of the most iconic and badass heroines of our time, Lisbeth Salander. It’s never a dull moment with brilliant but anti-social hacker, Lisbeth. In the first installment of the series, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, she teams up with disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist to solve the 40-year old mystery of a missing girl and the gruesome murders that appear related to her disappearance.

In The Girl Who Played With Fire, she fights fire with fire (sometimes literally), as she and Mikael investigate a sex-trafficking ring and Lisbeth is forced to go on the run after being accused of three murders.

And in the third and final movie in the trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, she attempts to clear her name, which will involve revealing all the sordid details of her past.

*The Millennium Trilogy films are only available in the U.S. on Topic.

Meaningful Stories

A dog and a sense of responsibility help inmates rehabilitate and find hope.

Eli:A Dog in Prison

“To have a responsibility with a dog, that’s my way of amending the harm that I’ve caused.” “Eli: A Dog in Prison” offers an unconventional look into our broken prison system, as three inmates are charged with training Eli, an adorable but unruly yellow lab puppy to become a highly disciplined guide dog for the blind in just 12 months. Along the way, the men form an unlikely friendship with each other and a tender bond with Eli.

A intimate look at how state legislation is further marginalizing the transgender population.

Trans in Trumpland

“Trans people, we’re not contagious, we’re not no disease. Accept us. Love us. We’re people.” In this moving documentary series, Director Tony Zosherafatain visits four states to tell four trans individual’s stories: their struggles, their resilience, their humanity. Trans in Trumpland brings to life the far-reaching impact of the conservative agenda and its anti-trans laws, and explores intersectional issues such as race, immigration, and poverty.

A look at small town conflict around tradition, symbolism and values.

Meltdown in Dixie

In the wake of the 2015 Charleston massacre, the owner of Edisto River Creamery ice cream shop in Orangeburg, SC wanted people to know that he’s not some “racist bastard” and went to take down the Confederate flag in the parking lot. But when the Sons of Confederate Veterans got wind of it, all hell broke loose. To them, the flag is a symbol of heritage to honor southern soldiers, while to many, it remains a symbol of oppression, racism, and hatred. This award-winning documentary short examines confederate symbolism and what it means to both sides.