AFI AWARDS 2021 – American Film Institute

AFI Awards

Honoring a year of excellence.


The honorees include 10 outstanding films and 10 outstanding TV programs deemed culturally and artistically representative of this year’s most significant achievements in the art of the moving image. Additional honorees were selected in a category for “Special Awards,” designated for works of excellence that fall outside of the Institute’s criteria of American film and television.



signs a proud rallying cry for voices rarely seen on screen. Siân Heder’s powerful story of choosing life’s path resonates beyond the screen and into our hearts – a celebration of rising above challenges to create our own futures. Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur and Daniel Durant embody the bond between family, the determination to pave a new path to the American dream and the joy of finding your voice – spoken or unspoken. LEARN MORE


rockets into the stratosphere of hilariously dark satires, entering the orbit of DR. STRANGELOVE and other American classics. Illuminated by a stellar cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep, Adam McKay annihilates modern day tribalism, a complicit media and willful American ignorance by infusing belly laughs to transform this disaster film into a screamingly funny action film that, ultimately, demands action. LEARN MORE


transports audiences to new worlds and immerses them in a vision so pure that the power of art is forever proven. This epic vision is painted with the brush of a master, Denis Villeneuve, whose exquisite adaptation mines its rich source material to reimagine one of pop culture’s sacred texts as an experience that is transporting, intoxicating – and entirely cinematic. Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac and an incandescent ensemble are a testament to the intimacy of performance that inspires fantasy to become reality. LEARN MORE


ascends the throne of America’s most inspiring movies in this story of Venus and Serena Williams’ rise to become the greatest tennis players in history. Reinaldo Marcus Green’s sure hand charts this journey by focusing on family and the eternal, paternal drive that not only ensures opportunity, but insists on it. Will Smith’s landmark performance as the man with the plan has audiences rising to their feet to prove that in a sport where “love” means “zero” – here, love means everything. LEARN MORE


offers a slice of life from the past that serves as a soaring reminder for the present – that joy lives each day in the eternal quest to “come of age.” Paul Thomas Anderson invites us back to his ’70s San Fernando Valley with the assurance of America’s greatest auteurs. His commitment to image, music and story creates a masterwork of nostalgic humanity – one embodied by two relative newcomers in Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman, whose chemistry is undimmed by the brilliant talent that surrounds them amidst the vast sparkling lights of the valley. LEARN MORE.


leads us down a path paved by American classics and emerges anew as a modern miracle. Guillermo del Toro’s funhouse of filmdom expertly refracts humanity in warped, distorted mirrors – and invites us to enjoy the ride. Bradley Cooper’s transformative turn reaffirms his place as a leading man looking for more; he and an all-star cast lure us into in an inescapable, immersive world of smoke-filled rooms, amber whiskeys and blood red lipstick that expand our worldview to remind us of the humor and the horror of life’s journey. LEARN MORE


looks to the hills for secrets unseen – and finds them in powerful, poetic images that transport audiences with a modern look back at the American West. This landmark work proves Jane Campion’s unparalleled ability to capture a world of breathless beauty and breathtaking brutality, both wrapped tight as a rope. This slow-burn tale is a brilliant exercise in suspense and release – masterfully manifested by a brilliant cast and an unforgettably complex performance by Benedict Cumberbatch. LEARN MORE


earns its exclamation point – an explosive testament to the driving powers of inspiration, aspiration and determination. Lin-Manuel Miranda soars to new heights with this enduring valentine to Jonathan Larson by exploring not just what it means to write, to direct, to produce…but to create. This high-energy, high-drama musical is driven forward with force by the unflinching artistry of Andrew Garfield, who brings Larson to life in a virtuoso performance that stands among the year’s finest. LEARN MORE


burns and bubbles with power and passion – a stark cinematic rendering of William Shakespeare’s immortal work. Joel Coen richly imagines this bloody tale of hubris as a gothic fever dream where “fair is foul and foul is fair”– a monumental achievement, and one in which only titans as towering as Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand could stir the material from transcendent text into timelessness. LEARN MORE


leaps into American film history a complete original – while standing tall upon stories foundational to the human experience. Steven Spielberg leads with love and forges his position as our greatest modern master, seeking out and soaring above new challenges and assembling a creative ensemble that speaks to the genius of both past and present – from Tony Kushner and Rita Moreno to Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. For all who wish to embrace art in modern day, this film is a rapturous celebration of America’s vast and varied voices, and at the same moment, a stinging question of what it will take to become “one hand, one heart.” LEARN MORE



upends the world of stand-up comedy one savage joke at a time. Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs and Jen Statsky’s wickedly funny series places a brilliant spotlight on Jean Smart’s turn as a legendary performer who finds herself both in need of and at war with Hannah Einbinder’s Gen Z up-and-comer. Together, they battle for laughs as they break barriers, ultimately finding there is nothing funnier than the truth.


sweeps audiences away in a story of strength, resolve and undying dreams. Molly Smith Metzler’s series is a joy to watch despite the hardships endured by Alex, portrayed with revelatory restraint by Margaret Qualley. As she embraces the challenges of motherhood, an abusive ex-boyfriend and an unsupportive family to find a future, each episode is a testament to resilience and a rich commentary on the humanity of a class that society too often chooses not to see.


calls upon all the powers of storytelling to solve a relentlessly suspenseful whodunit amidst the hardscrabble people of its Pennsylvania small town setting. With an unyielding eye and ear toward authenticity and a mastery of pastoral gothic, Brad Ingelsby marshals this investigation of the secrets and lies amongst family and friends. Kate Winslet’s transformational performance is a tour de force, as she wades through darkness to confront the pain of her past.


pulls focus to find those often ignored both on screen and off. Following four Indigenous teenagers who inhabit the world of an Oklahoma reservation but dream of a future in California, Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi’s series blows in like a strong, fresh wind. A new generation of young stars gives these stories their soul, and their characters’ adventures and misadventures resonate with humor, heart and, most importantly, empathy – the key role of art in driving culture forward.


explodes with joy and music and laughter – and contemporary cynicism. This candy-colored cocktail is hand-crafted by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, who have created an ebullient valentine to musicals by inviting even the most sardonic to see the world beyond the fog of Brigadoon. Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key light up a glittering marquee of Broadway talent that power an insight into personal change through clever homage, catchy songs and bravura, show-stopping choreography.


sits tall on a castle in the clouds – with a foundation built upon the allure of power and the acknowledgement of its absurdity. This third year of Jesse Armstrong’s gimlet-eyed portrait of American hubris remains quintessentially – and uncomfortably – apt for this moment in our nation’s history. There is also joy in knowing that Brian Cox and the all-star ensemble continue to walk the razor’s edge of drama vs. satire, delivering each line as if from the stage of the Globe.


makes us believe – in goodness, in each other and in the power of television. Bill Lawrence, Jason Sudeikis, Brendan Hunt and Joe Kelly’s irrepressibly empathetic series has reached even higher goals in its second year. Deeper, darker character development for the ensemble has added a rich shade of complexity to the life lessons and laughs delivered by Ted’s homespun wisdom and homemade biscuits.


emerges from the fog of America’s past as a hauntingly triumphant monument to those who strived to live in a land where “all men are created equal.” Adapted from the novel by Colson Whitehead, Barry Jenkins and his extraordinary creative ensemble unlock the powers of both horror and fantasy to paint an unflinching look at the hellscape of the nation’s foundation, and in the process, ride this epic masterwork into television history.


changes the channel on the superhero narrative. Brilliantly stitching emotional themes into the cape-and-tights conventions of Marvel’s cinematic universe, Jac Schaeffer’s visionary storytelling utilizes nostalgia as a smokescreen for a rich investigation of loss and grief. Impeccably embodying avatars across TV history, Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany summon acting powers beyond what is human – and do so at the risk of each scene being stolen by Kathryn Hahn.


blooms to reveal the unbearable whiteness of being – unmasking the superficialities of privilege in the capitalist class with the half-wink of a Botoxed eye. Set against a backdrop of paradise lost, Mike White’s searing social satire unfolds at a vacation’s pace, allowing room for each of its epically excellent ensemble to incriminate themselves through action or inaction – and entitlement.



stands as a monument to the power of childhood memory – where hope lives on despite the view from behind barbed wire. Set inside the war zone of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, Kenneth Branagh’s tenderly crafted cinematic memoir is a loving look at the ones who left, the ones who stayed and the ones who were lost along the way. Jude Hill’s performance as young Buddy radiates with light and promise, and Caitríona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan and Ciarán Hinds embody the ties that bind in a work that rises above autobiography to ask why we divide ourselves and when will we stop.


surged onto screens a global phenomenon. This saga of survival is – at once – a heart-filled drama about those down on their luck, a heart-pounding thriller and a damning critique of capitalism. Hwang Dong-hyuk’s unmatched achievement is the story’s power to smash cultural and geographic boundaries – to connect us as human – all playing the violent game of life, surprised to learn how it will end.


takes the stage at a time when its message matters most. Transporting audiences back to the Harlem Cultural Festival of 1969, with footage previously thought lost to history, Questlove turns back time and welcomes all into the embrace of a joyful, life-affirming event. This sublime and urgently necessary documentary blends music, memory, culture, community and, ultimately, the vibrant amplification of Black voices – beamed from the past to serve as catalysts for those who look to the future today.

Event Photos