Favorite Books, Movies, Shows, Documentaries, and Podcasts of 2021

December 16, 2021

I’m Michelle.
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For creatives, books, movies, and television are both a source of entertainment and inspiration for our projects. Or at least that’s the excuse I give when people ask, “how do you find the time to watch/read so many things?”

Here’s a list of the books, tv shows, movies, documentaries, and podcasts I most enjoyed in 2021. If they made the cut, it means that:

I would consume it again.

I would recommend it to almost anyone.

It was an objectively well-crafted piece of work.

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Favorite Fiction Books of 2021

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman

A story about a socially awkward office worker who forms an unexpected friendship with the IT guy at her company, helping her heal from childhood trauma.

The recipe is unique and unpredictable: a bit of a mystery and wildly funny, but with notes of sadness. It all works out in the end and will leave you with a warm feeling in your heart.

People We Meet on Vacation, by Emily Henry

This was my favorite book of the year. It’s a friends-to-lovers rom-com that follow a guy and a girl through ten years of summer trips together and the final adventure that’s needed to save their relationship.

It was entertaining and a great love story without being overly sentimental. It could have been a page-turner, except that I tried to read it as slowly as possible. I really didn’t want it to end.

It Ends with Us Book Review by Michelle Hickey

It Ends with Us, by Colleen Hoover

A flower shop owner named Lily meets a handsome neurosurgeon named Ryle, and they quickly fall in love. As their story unravels, Lily learns more about Ryle and why he’s avoided dating for so long.

It’s a heartbreaking tale but brilliantly written, and the meaning behind the title isn’t revealed until the very end. When you understand its significance, it will give you chills.

Favorite Non-Fiction Books of 2021

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Deep Work, by Cal Newport

As someone who dabbles in many areas, I often spread myself too thin, and burnout inevitably follows. This book was the permission slip I needed to let go of trying to do it all and relish in the joy of doing less— allowing space to create quality, meaningful work.

I especially recommend this one to creative introverts.

Effortless, by Greg McKeown

So needed that I finished reading it and immediately started it again. A strong follow-up to McKeown’s debut, EssentialismEffortless explores practical solutions to simplify your life and work.

With a strong emphasis on eliminating the unnecessary, McKeown helps you hone in on the most important, resulting in less stress and more success.

This book is a must-read if you tend to overcomplicate or are easily overwhelmed.

Favorite Television Shows and Series’ of 2021

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The Crown, Season 3 and 4 | Netflix

It took me so long to return to The Crown after S2 ended, as I wasn’t ready for the new queen. But once I started, it didn’t take long to be all in on Olivia Coleman’s portrayal as Elizabeth II.

Each episode is rich, thoughtful, and visually stunning. They contained so much that they felt more like short films than a tv series.

Loki, Season 1 | Disney+

I’m a fringe Marvel fan, but this series won me over. The story begins with Loki’s arrival at the Time Variance Authority (TVA), a bureaucratic organization that monitors time (in a setting that looks ripped from Mad Men). From there, Loki hops through time as he attempts to help fix a glitch and stop a greater threat to humanity. 

Somewhere along the way, it turns into a rom-com. There are beautiful visuals, lots of great jokes, and even more surprises. It fits into the greater MCU but could be enjoyed as a standalone. Impossible to watch without falling in love with Tom Hiddleston.

Even if you’re not in for the entire series, and you’re a designer, treat yourself to the end credits. They are a show in of itself.

Mare of Easttown | HBO Max

The best show of 2021. The premise doesn’t sound like anything special: a detective named Mare (Kate Winslet) investigates a local murder.

But creator Brad Ingelsby did a phenomenal job penning the script and characters that occupy the small-town Pennsylvania setting in which the story takes place. It pulls on every heartstring and ends with a hauntingly beautiful visual.

The execution is simple. The impact is profound. This is how you do it.

Ted Lasso, Seasons 1 and 2 | Apple TV

I hate being basic, but if it means I get to keep watching Ted Lasso, then I’m all in. It’s a show full of heart, laughs, lovable characters, and a much-needed break from the negativity that plagues our screens.

It deserves every accolade, award, and then some. Bring on Season 3!

Favorite Movies of 2021

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In the Heights

The lone film I saw on the big screen this year (at my beloved Drive-In theater in Wellfleet, MA). My sister was parked in the car next to me and said that she and her boyfriend kept looking over and laughing at me because I wore a gigantic, child-like smile on my face throughout the entire movie.

There’s music, dancing, so much color, great visuals, and fabulously talented actors. The story is meh, but you’ll be so distracted by everything else that it’s worth overlooking.

I caught an encore on HBO Max a few weeks later and have been rocking the soundtrack on repeat ever since.

Double Indemnity

This movie was not released in 2021, nor this century, but I watched it for the first time this fall, and it became a fast favorite. Released in 1944 and starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck, it’s a film noir that follows an insurance salesman who gets roped into a murderous scheme by a woman who wants to kill her husband.

As an ardent fan of Alfred Hitchcock, I found it enjoyable to find a film outside of his catalog that encapsulated the same vibes. If you enjoy classic films and haven’t seen Double Indemnity yet, you’re in for a treat.

Favorite Documentaries of 2021

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Pretend It’s a City | Netflix

I watched this documentary at the very beginning of the year and fell fast and hard—so much that I’ve watched it a few more times since. Directed by Martin Scorcese and featuring his longtime friend, writer Fran Lebowitz, it is a seven-part series about what it’s like to be a New Yorker.

I have to admit that I suggested this documentary to many people and nobody seemed to like as much as I did, but I think that if it hits with you, you will adore it. Especially if you’ve spent any time in New York, or have a sarcastic sense of humor.

You can read my full love letter to Pretend It’s a City here.

Into the Unknown: Making Frozen II | Disney+

Like many artists, I was a kid who grew up wanting to be a Disney animator. As an adult, I’m obsessed and fascinated by how films get made and how creative teams work together to bring a vision to life.

In this documentary, you’re treated to a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to get an animated feature film to the big screen.

I learned so much from Into the Unknown, but the biggest lesson was understanding that no matter the budget, or the company, things go wrong—and it’s up to bright, creative individuals to solve those problems so that the show can go on.

Favorite Podcasts of 2021

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Too Long, Didn’t Watch

From famous (to me and other tv nerds) Rolling Stone Chief TV Critic Alan Sepinwall comes a podcast that interviews celebrities who have never watched popular tv shows. They view the pilot and finale episode of the series and have hilarious discussions with Sepinwall about their opinions and predictions.

With great combinations like Lena Dunham watching Cheers, Jon Hamm watching Gossip Girl, and Alison Brie watching Game of Thrones, it’s wildly entertaining and addicting. I’ve heard rumors of a Season 2, but nothing announced yet.

The Plot Thickens, from TCM

If you’re a listener of A Podcast for Creatives, or follow me on Instagram, it’s likely you’ve already heard me gush over this documentary-style audio series about movies and the people who make them.

Season 1 focused on filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, whom I knew little about, and his story was fascinating. I skipped over Season 2, only because I couldn’t wait to start Season 3, dedicated to Lucille Ball.

As a life-long fan of Lucy, I thought I knew all there was to know, but The Plot Thickens proved me wrong and delighted me along the way.

The quality of this podcast is in a class of its own—so good that I almost wish they charged for it. I can’t wait to see what’s to come in Season 4 and beyond.

Armchair Expert

I’ve listened to this show for a couple of years now but have only just come to appreciate how truly special it is. Hosted by actors Dax Shepard and Monica Padman, it’s a show that interviews celebrities and experts, asking the really good, really thought-provoking questions.

It’s a podcast that reminds us that underneath, we are all the same. With long episodes and a deep catalog, Armchair Expert is the epitome of audible abundance.

A few more favorites of 2021

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Notable but probably not for everyone, and in no particular order:

The Third Door, by Alex Banayan (non-fiction book)
Not your average entrepreneurial story. On this list, because it was the most entertaining book I’ve listened to Audible (read by the author).

Just Last Night, by Mhairi McFarlane (fiction book)
I didn’t like this story as much as I thought I would, but I really enjoyed the author’s writing style. Reading it also sparked an idea that quickly spun into a web of words that became the start of my second novel. I hope I’ll get the chance to thank Mhairi one day.

Miracle and Wonder (non-fiction book)
So much more than a book. It’s more of an audio documentary, about Paul Simon, written and narrated by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s a beautiful piece of art, teaching lessons about creativity, music, and life. One of my favorite pieces I listened to this year and just missed the cut on the main list. I wasn’t confident that a non-Paul Simon fan would appreciate it for all its worth.

The Shit No One Tells You About Writing (podcast)
This podcast, hosted by a creative writing teacher/author and two literary agents, reviews book pitches and first pages from authors and offer advice on how to make them better. It has been instrumental in encouraging me to keep going on my book-writing and publishing journey. I’ve learned a lot and am so grateful for all of the wisdom I’ve gleaned from these discussions.

Call Me Kat (television)
Highbrow content has its place, but sometimes you just want to kick back and watch a sitcom about a single woman in her late thirties who owns a cat cafe. If that sounds like your idea of a good time, this is the show for you. The waving at the end of every episode is my favorite.

Younger (television)
I love when you find a good (new to you) show that has many, many seasons to enjoy. This show, about a 40-year-old woman who passes herself off as a 26-year old to land a job in Publishing, is light, fun, and everyone wears great outfits. I spent the summer going through the series and enjoyed every minute.

CBS Sunday Morning (television)
My friend and Podcast co-host Steve recommended this show to me earlier this year, and my Sunday mornings have never been so enjoyable. Each episode features segments and often feel-good stories about history, culture, and art. If you don’t have cable, you can catch them on YouTube.

Searching for Italy (documentary)
After spending so much time indoors over the last two years, I know I’m not the only one who has been experiencing wanderlust. This series follows actor (and my real-life cousin) Stanley Tucci as he travels through Italy, eating, drinking, and indulging in local culture. My favorite is Episode 2: Rome, which features his parents (my Aunt Joan and Uncle Stan).

Angie Bellemare (YouTube)
My friend Ashley Shelly recommended this channel to me, which features a Beach Body coach from Canada who recently built a second home in the coveted Golden Oaks neighborhood at (yes, at) Walt Disney World. I must admit, at first, I was overwhelmed by Angie’s energy, but she’s so colorful and over the top that I quickly became addicted to her content. If you identify as a minimalist, stay away. You will be scarred.

Murder on Middle Beach (documentary)
A true-crime series that my husband and I watched at the beginning of the year is an investigation into an unsolved murder. What makes it unique is that it is written and produced by the son of the victim, who started this project when he was a student at SCAD. Your mind will be blown away by what he created and was brave enough to share.

I will never stop being amazed by the talent and creativity that exists in our world. I’m so grateful for every artist who played a role in this list of media and the ones I have yet to discover.

What were some of the best books, movies, tv shows, documentaries, podcasts, and music you enjoyed this year?

If you buy something through the links in this post, I may earn an affiliate commission, at no cost to you. Thank you for your support!

Top image by Stocklane

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