As we shift through alternating experiences of reality we look to film for comfort, nuzzling its limitless form and climbing upon its shoulders to get a better view of the world around us. And so, to mark the end of 2021, our wonderful contributors, past and present, once again come together and offer up their loved ones so that we may give thanks and praise to the Mighty One – Film.
Yes, it’s our annual massive list...
1 The Hand of God
The most intimate (and most genuine) of Paulos Sorrentino’s films. In it, you’ll find the weird beauty of Naples, Italy’s obsession for football, family bonds, the pain of living and, of course, much love for the seventh art.
A fast-paced, moving tale about how violence begets violence, bolstered by excellent writing and two superb young newcomers.
3 Children of the Enemy
The best documentary of the year. It tells the incredible story of a “Grandpa Courage” (a fifty-something Chilean-Swedish musician, Patricio Galvez) who embarks on a high-risk journey to rescue his seven grandchildren. Amanda ended up marrying one of Sweden’s most notorious ISIS terrorists, Michael Skråmo, and fleeing her country to join the caliphate in Syria in 2014. Five years later, Amanda and Michael are killed and their seven young children are interned in the al-Hol prison camp.
One of the best titles from this year’s Berlinale, Berrached’s third feature is an enthralling drama. It follows what at first seems to be a classical love story between the two leads, Asli (Canan Kir) and Saeed (Roger Azar).
5 Feature Film About Life
One of the surprises of this festival season. A clear example of how cinema perhaps needs simpler stories, where one doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel but where the characters, the actors’ performances and the mise-en-scène are balanced, and they work as they should to pique the viewer’s curiosity and stir their emotions.
Like most people, I expected Pig to be a Liam Neeson Taken style gimme-back my pig or I’ll kill ya type yarn. What I got was something entirely different. Pig is a moving drama featuring the best and most restrained Nicolas Cage performance in a long time. Cage is one of a select and ever dwindling group of actors who could reasonably expect to have two films released in the same week with one ending up in cinemas and the other going direct to video (or whatever we call it nowadays – on demand or streaming, etc). Video works better to underline the point.
The performances are terrific and the script touching with a series of little vignettes coming together to create something bigger that does actually feel profound rather than pretentious. There are several laugh-out loud moments and C’mon C’mon has lingered in my mind for quite a while post-viewing. Always a good sign.
Censor is a great debut from Prano-Bailey Bond – at turns scary, mysterious and even darkly funny. The film conjures up the strong atmosphere of a particular place in time with Annika Summerson’s cinematography really bringing to life (or perhaps lack of life!) the grey hue of the Thatcher era and the grim daily endurance that many people’s lives no doubt were back then. Simultaneously, Censor manages to feel quite prescient. Algar is excellent as Enid and portrays her as an odd yet sympathetic character that you really want to root for.
Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round is a brilliantly original piece of work boasting yet another magnificent performance from Mads Mikkelsen. While Mikkelsen is front and centre on the poster, it’s really an ensemble piece and all the other actors are excellent too. Some films are described as Comedy Dramas but are clearly far more one than the other. Another Round really does fit the description of a Comedy Drama though as there are strong moments of both right from the off and all throughout.
Riders Of Justice
And it’s Mads Mikklesen with the Gold and the Silver! Just like Another Round, it’s also really an ensemble piece featuring a quartet of top-drawer performances. The screenplay is about a whole range of things at once but it never goes off the rails (anyone who has seen this film will get this pun). Riders Of Justice is riotously funny at times and sad at others. Some scenes are surprisingly moving and others are gleefully absurd.
1) No Time to Die
James Bond is enjoying some down time but his old chum, Felix Leiter has other ideas when he turns up and asks JB for help. It’s an entirely predictable romp through multi-layered explosions and a couple of knock-down drag-out fights where James just looks fabulous at all times. Maybe just insure the cars for fire and not theft? You get exactly what you pay for in this long awaited swansong for Daniel Craig – also starring the amazing Rami Malek as Safin.
Watching Bob Odenkirk in literally anything is always going to be my midnight feast/raiding the fridge/guilty pleasure. And as Hutch Marshall in this gripping revenge flick along the lines of Unforgiven or Falling Down, Odenkirk delivers with epic skill.
The ubiquitous Timothee Chalamet is well cast as the brooding Paul Atreides in this futuristic tale of good versus evil. It’s a little clichéd but a damn fine yarn nonetheless and while 2021’s version will never top the original, it still gives it a good go.
A family embark on a holiday to the tropics but come to realise that the beautiful beach they have been visiting is imbued by a sinister force causing them to age rapidly. M. Night Shyamalan has great ideas and he is a director to be reckoned with but sometimes his visions peter out and this is one such instance. Old is still worth watching though.
A childless couple witnesses a ewe giving birth to a hybrid lamb/human child. They adopt the tiny creature and raise her as their own. An eerie, atmospheric gem of a movie where a silent beast lurks and watches until the final brutal shocking act. You won’t see this coming.
And lastly, The Turkey – not to be served up on Christmas day because this will put you off your dinner. For real.
The Woman in the Window
Quit being so goddam nosy. Get away from that window now. And stop drinking. This movie is such a waste of time that I itched to wire the turkey up to ‘ol sparky’ and see would it rise again and get jiggy wit it. Happily it would definitely get the neighbours talking. Now that’s curtain-twitching gossip I can relate to.
5. I’m Your Man
What if you could design your own robot hunk, who was loving, supportive and could clean your flat in record time? Would you bring him to your niece’s christening? Would you spend the rest of your life with him? A slow, quirky German romantic comedy, Maria Schrader’s I’m Your Man takes a very fresh look at the complexities of modern dating which ends up being an odd blend of the surprisingly sweet mixed with the darkly funny.
4. Redemption of a Rogue
A supernatural black comedy of biblical proportions, Redemption of a Rogue tells the story of one prodigal son returning to his hometown to seek salvation for his sins. With such a pronounced visual aesthetic and a cutting authorial voice, writer/director Philip Doherty performs miracles delivering this striking, stylish, polished film on such a low budget.
3. Summer of Soul
In the summer of 1969, the Harlem Cultural Festival took place over a series of weekends in Manhattan. This glorious event was a celebration of African-American fashion, food, comedy, culture and, above all, music. Some of the most trendsetting and iconic Funk, Soul, Gospel, Jazz, R&B, Pop, Motown and Blues musicians took to the stage for these free open air concerts. After fifty years, Summer of Soul restores and compiles the footage of the Harlem Cultural Festival into a genuinely joyous piece of cinema.
When young mother Sandra separates from her abusive husband, she struggles to navigate the financial and legal systems set up against her. Against all odds, she enlists an unlikely crew to help her build her own home for her and her two daughters. Featuring a stellar performance from writer, performer Clare Dunne, this beautiful, bittersweet drama tracks all the uplifting arcs you’d expect from the genre. However, what sets Herself apart is its truthful and painful examination of the battles faced by a victim of domestic abuse.
1. Promising Young Woman
One woman’s obsessive quest for revenge against predatory men takes a sinister turn when she’s faced with an acquaintance from her past. The rage in this film is palpable. The final product doesn’t deliver what’s promised in the trailer. This film was also a victim of its own hype – all of which is why I can understand why it’s a difficult watch for some, and an infuriating one for others. I, however, adored every minute of it, from the clever play on well-worn cliches to the bubblegum visuals to the darkly comic characterisations of “good guys”. This film captures a cultural moment perfectly – the post #MeToo fury, the conversation we all have behind closed doors – and ultimately goes somewhere so brutal, it couldn’t be ignored.
Making this list was as confronting as taking a long hard look in the mirror and asking myself the dreaded question, “so this is Christmas, and what have you done?”
I feel like I spent thousands of hours in front of a TV this year, and SEVERAL hours in the cinema, yet I feel hard-pressed to compile a list of films that genuinely blew me away. Is there something wrong with me? Do I not like films any more? Or maybe I just haven’t seen loads of the good ones from festivals that aren’t out on general release yet. Yes, that’s it. I’m fine! But there were a few that made a lasting impression.
Not a film. Not really a comedy special. Definitely a masterpiece. I was also blown away by how he managed to portray and dissect the collective ennui people experienced not only during the pandemic but also in the virtual, self broadcasting world we’ve grown up in.
Every few years a documentary comes out that fires on all cylinders. Ones that not only invite us into a new world through a fascinating story or character, but that also innovate the medium itself. Val Kilmer’s poignant and vulnerable self portrait is as powerful as it is surprising. Through years of his own personal home movie footage and present day actuality, interviews and VO from his son, the filmmakers share a well crafted and original version of the bio-doc.
In The Heights
As a massive fan of Hamilton, I was really excited to finally get to see this. Seeing it in the cinema was the closest thing to what I can only imagine was a stunning live show on Broadway. I loved how director Jon M. Chu used the medium to elevate the experience with editing and VFX to do things that wouldn’t be possible in live theatre while staying faithful to the source material. The film hits you with jaw-dropping sequence after sequence that are each enough on their own to merit serious praise. The entire piece feels like a joyful explosion of culture, a window into a world we don’t see enough of in theatre, or on the big screen.
This 2021 version used the myth of Candyman as a biting social commentary in the Black Lives Matter era and gave us a prescient and biting social commentary as well as top level entertainment. This was an important treatment for the franchise considering criticism of the original film for mishandling conversations around race. But what I loved about this kind of reboot was that it acknowledged the faults of the original without completely casting it aside and managed to still harness and celebrate the elements of the original that audiences always loved. It felt sprawling, nostalgic, creepy, powerful and fun!
Not a film. The marketing for this Apple TV+ original series drastically let this show down. The show is wildly creative and original and deals with modern manhood in a way we’ve never seen in film or TV before.
While 2021 has been just as emotionally draining and exhausting as 2020, one highlight of 2021 was the extended return to cinemas. We have all needed a bit of escapism of late and honestly 2021 had so many incredible films to whisk you away in a frenzy of emotions, genres, tones, styles, themes…..I escaped many, many times!
Promising Young Woman
That freaking ending with Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning”! Incredible, vibrant, POP! induced viewing that has a clear and strong message and incredible performances! Hard hitting, you know whats coming because well… the fucking patriarchy… but I was in awe after watching this film. The vibrancy and message of this film remained, it was like the sparkly nail polish that doesn’t chip off your nails for months, I just couldn’t shake it.
This remake was incredible. It had a perfect balance of horror beats to message, it didn’t preach, it didn’t go down that hipster rabbit hole of choosing message over story. The original 1992 film is one of my all time favorites so I was incredibly skeptical going into this remake, but it did not disappoint. The only thing missing was more of Philip Glasses’ haunting score. This is how you do a remake.
This is one of those really special films that just lands in all the right places. The emotional beats, the comedic beats… the highs, the lows, the performances from every single character in this film…. (Mads at his absolute finest). I went into this film with my blood alcohol content with a deficiency of 0.05%! After watching Another Round, I walked out of that cinema without having a single drink with my blood alcohol content up at 0.05%, It was an intoxicatingly brilliant watch.
This film should make the death of pets an actual reason for bereavement leave worldwide. A film about going to extreme lengths simply because you love your animal! Nicolas Cage at his absolute finest.
I ugly cried at this. Like I had to be physically held as the credits rolled. Distraught. Incredible performances and set design! That’s all I’m going to say or else I’ll cry again!
An absolute romp of an unconventional film in the form of a psychological musical.The performances, songs and set design are so vibrant and distinct. It’s a murder story, it’s a love story, it’s an enthralling dreamscape you can’t escape. Even at the end of the end credits there is a song. Absolutely adored this.
Another year with several films that were technically released in earlier years but had their debut in Irish festivals in 2021. What can I say? I’m a maverick. Nothing I can think of that really deserves turkey status either (maybe that silly Michael Bay movie Songbird, but life’s too short, you know?). However, I do have a couple of honourable mentions below! In no particular order…
You watched the four-hour Snyder Cut this year, I hear you say? Well I laugh at you! You are nothing if you haven’t sat through the five hours of Ryūsuke Hamaguchi’s enchanting behemoth. (And when I say “sat through” I mean this wasn’t actually a chore and I really enjoyed it. Cinema’s not a competition, yo). Happy Hour explores the lives of five friends in Japan, women who have become friends as adults and struggle to find time to spend together amid their working and familial duties. It’s such an usual topic to get an epic cinema treatment, and providing the space for the nuances of their everyday lives makes for a fascinating and enthralling experience.
Adapted from Nella Larsen’s enigmatic novella of the same name, Rebecca Hall’s drama is a sumptuous study of two light-skinned black women struggling for survival against the backdrop of 1920s New York. Beautifully shot in black and white, Passing’s claustrophobic close-ups reflect the anxieties of the women, whose fears of being discovered passing for white saturate every moment. Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga play off each other wonderfully, each interaction hinting at a world of desire and frustration simmering below the surface. Passing is a joy to watch, blending its technical prowess with challenging and nuanced themes of performativity and blackness.
Class Action Park
If there is one documentary that explains why the U.S. is such a strange place… well, then this would be one of them. This was certainly the one that helped solidify some ideas for me this year. Class Action Park explores the history of what (I would hope) is New Jersey’s strangest and most dangerous theme park. Spurred on by his libertarian beliefs, Gene Mulvihill, the owner of Action Park, decided that his rides should test human endurance, health and safety rules be damned. This absolutely bonkers documentary interviews patrons and former employees from the 1980s, many of whom risked life and limb on these rides. For sheer shock value alone this is well worth a watch!
We Need To Do Something
Can I claim to understand everything that happened in Sean King O’Grady’s debut? Nope, and it’s all the better for it. We Need To Do Something may start out with the trappings of a disaster movie, with a family of four using their bathroom as a make-shift fallout shelter after hurricane warnings: however the narrative quickly spirals out of control as the storm intensifies, trapping them in the room. There is more than a little of Sarah Kane’s Blasted here as the world of the movie collapses in on itself. Will the world look the same when they emerge? Is there a world out there anymore? Unsettling and mesmerising, it’s convinced me of the need to do something (even if I’m still not sure what it is I should do).
The Green Knight
I reckon now is as good a time as ever to watch The Green Knight if you haven’t yet: perhaps even better than ever. It is, after all, a Christmas movie. This almost languorous feature regales us with the story of a directionless young man, Gawain (Dev Patel), who gets his opportunity to prove his worth to King Arthur in a bizarre festive game with a ten-foot-tall green man who, erm, challenges him to chop off his head? Yeah, don’t worry. It never starts making much more sense than that. David Lowery’s The Green Knight is a fascinating take on the original medieval poem which leaves plenty of breathing room for the original text’s enigma.
Not an easy watch, but an extremely necessary documentary on the fight against international fracking attempts in Ireland’s midlands.
A Far Green Country
Our own Jonathon Victory’s debut feature film, following him on his tour of Lord of the Rings filming locations throughout New Zealand. Engaging, entertaining and educational.
Anchored by two commanding and utterly flawless lead performances, this raw, border-set drama is an intense and uncomfortable watch. But as rewarding as it is unflinchingly emotionally visceral. Cathartic in the way screaming at the roaring ocean can be.
Nominally a drama/comedy, this small scale and quite intimate little film set at a wake has sections of awkward social interaction more tense than many a thriller. The leads are equal parts hilarious, infuriating, adorable and exhausting. Given how much of its plot involves sex, it’ll appropriately leave you needing a cigarette afterwards.
No Time To Die
The Craig era has had a habit of following universally beloved entries with significantly messier ones before correcting itself on every odd numbered release. And lo does the trend complete itself. Containing some of the best-looking and most polished, practically filmed, blockbuster action set-pieces of any film this year between the Matera opening and the giddy joy of the Cuba sequence; if the film falters somewhat in its plotting by the end, it manages to pull itself out of that nosedive by doing the unthinkable and injecting the Bond franchise with legitimate emotional stakes and something approaching a conclusion. Funny, well-acted, surprisingly heartfelt and just a true cinematic spectacle.
Blood Red Skies
“Are you serious?” I hear you say. “The ‘Die Hard but it’s on a plane, and there’s a dracula on board’ movie??”. Yes. Genuinely. It benefits enormously from not being an American film and as such contains far more nuanced characterisation and a fully fitting downer ending. It also manages an impressive balancing act of cleverly escalating its situation/set-pieces/stakes (no pun intended) with a melancholic, excellently performed central and utterly believable relationship between the well meaning mother and her young son who has had too much responsibility put on his tiny shoulders. Not the shlock it sounds like. But also the best version of the shlock it sounds like.
Just a riotously good time. It’s got comedy, intrigue, drama, violence, guns and bracingly modern sensibilities in everything from its direction, lead and indeed origins as a twitter thread. As exhausting to watch at points as the tense, drug fuelled misadventure it stumbles into and violently exits while cackling like a lunatic.
“So Bad It May Have Been The Best Cinema Experience Of The Year”:
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City
(I would like to specify that this should be watched in 4DX if possible, and if not possible, pay a friend to recreate the effect.) Tonally inconsistent, simultaneously too much and not enough plot, a massive cast that it can’t hope to justify and hilariously proud of how “true” to the source material it is while contorting said story into 12 new directions to fit what it’s attempting. Impossible to say how in on the joke everyone is but its cheapness on everything but it’s bafflingly unnecessary ’90s jukebox soundtrack almost make it feel like a concerted effort to recreate some no name TV movie you’d stumble across at 2am in the pre broadband days. And being violently jostled around in your seat while strobe lights and water are fired into your eyes never felt more appropriate.
1. Spider-Man: No Way Home
Best. Movie. Ever. Did I mention it is the best movie ever?
2. Tick, Tick…Boom!
3. The Last Duel
A sad and dark tale, excellently told through different points of view.
This is a great film that gives insight into the pain of Aretha Franklin’s life, and how she used that as inspiration for her music.
5. No Time to Die
Daniel Craig’s swan song as Bond was more character driven than action driven, which is what made me appreciate it. A fitting end for a great Bond.
Malcolm and Marie
Stylish, arthouse, and classy. Zendaya is at her best in this film.
Intriguing story and unreal cinematography.
A whippingly clever and viciously honest exploration of anxious longing that stabs you in the back as it embraces you. Billie Piper knows her stuff and isn’t afraid to throw it out all out of the bedroom window and set fire to it. Glorious.
A tender and moving portrayal of the refugee experience that overflows with a bleak, absurdist humour – all backed up with a lush canvas of a Scottish island caught to perfection by Ben Sharrock’s patient camera work. Limbo is a masterfully constructed study of isolation, loneliness and displacement.
Ban this filth! A dazzling delve into censorship set against the backdrop of the hilarious ‘video nasties’ era of the 1980s. Prano Bailey-Bond’s direction is crackerjack and she handles the mood and tone with the detailed precision of a Giallo black leather-gloved killer. Niamh Algar proves, yet again, what a terrific actor she is as she journeys into the heart of darkness. All served up with a delicious score by Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch atop its delightfully vicious sound design.
Fernanda Valadez’s hauntingly compelling film plays like a fever dream as we follow a Mother looking to find her son who disappeared trying to cross the border into the US. The film’s erupting magical realism and horrifying violence brings to life a very real heartbreaking tale of powerlessness and evil. Devastating.
Julia Ducournau takes on the baton of French horror and bludgeons you with it in this follow-up to the succulent delights of Raw. This time we are taken on a twisted genre and flipped gender buffet of brutality. Once it spills its guts though, the film reveals its warm innards. A beautifully bonkers cattle prod of a film.
5. At the End of Evin
This gem flew under the radar at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh, but it offers a sharply unique approach to genre filmmaking engaged with transgender issues. Shot in first-person, the film excels in its slow, unsuspecting horror elements.
4. Can’t Get You Out of My Head: An Emotional History of the Modern World
Call it a cheat, but this six-part mini-series offers more intrigue, whimsy and food for thought than any documentary feature this year. Curtis’ sometimes sketchy lines of argument and broad-strokes approach to history is both stimulating and addictive.
If Villeneuve can stick the landing on “Part 2”, this may be the cinematic heir to Jackson’s inimitable Lord of the Rings trilogy. It seems like it shouldn’t work, but there’s a clarity of vision, a masterful balance of tone and a bottomless passion for the source material that make it all sing.
2. Bad Trip
What Eric Andre’s prank comedy has that no one quite expected is heart. A format synonymous with cheap laughs at best and bullying at worst is transcended through an approach that sincerely and earnestly cares about people. The real-world scenarios exist not just to push the plot forward, but to put the unknowing participants in positions that call for them to be kind, caring, selfless. These moments create something legitimately profound, and thoroughly unexpected amisdt all the scatalogical humour.
1. Drive My Car
Hamaguchi’s three-hour epic is one of his shorter films in recent years, but is endlessly planted with nuance in character detail. Adapted from a Murakami short story, the film perfectly translates the feeling of reading the author’s prose. Dense as anything, it is often difficult to discern what the crucial plot points are – partly because every scene carries an aching pathos beneath small talk and words gone unsaid.
1. First Cow
Udderly delightful and moo-ving (Christ) First Cow is a truly unique Western, balancing the grit of the frontier with genuine human warmth. A great comparative study of the value of masculinity in the old west (would make a great companion piece with this year’s Power of the Dog) Kelly Reichardt has crafted yet another wonderful, gentle cowboy movie, now with an actual emphasis on the cow aspect of the job.
2. Another Round
A brilliant dissection of drink culture, Another Round is Vinterberg’s best film since Festen. The greatest indictment of meme culture is that the final scene was endlessly shared on social media, removing it from the context of the film for some cheap “lol Hannibal can dance” e-chuckles. Regardless, Another Round is a perfect cocktail of merriment and melancholy.
3. Petite Maman
If Celine Sciamma’s previous film Portrait of a Lady on Fire was intended as a heartbreaker then Petite Maman is the cure. A tender time-travelling tale without an ounce of fat (barely over an hour in length!) A touching ode to childhood and bridging generations, Petite Maman is yet another Sciamma triumph and a continuation of modern cinemas greatest hot streak.
4. The Green Knight
With the poem originally written in the 14th century and this adaptation seemingly endlessly delayed by COVID-19, it’s truly worthy of celebration that The Green Knight finally arrived this year and is a fantasy masterpiece to boot. An epic that asks intimate questions of its lead (Dev Patel) as he embarks on a mythical suicide mission.
5. Great Freedom
Franz Rogowski is one of the most exciting actors of our time and outside of his work with Christian Petzold this is his finest work to date. A gay prison drama that spans decades, the most unusual love story of the year and the best final scene of a film this year, all in one package! Director Sebastien Meise is a talent to be watched and his tale of being locked-up enriched my lockdown.
Of course, it should go without saying but despite not making my top five: I love Baby Annette!
The film offers an insightful look at the deaf community and represents their struggles and hardships in a way that no other film really ever has. Director Sian Heder crafts the film with such compassion and respect for the deaf community and manages to create a truly heart-warming story which balances humour, drama and love. Bolstered by strong performances by the whole cast, particularly the lead Emilia Jones and Oscar winner Marlee Matlin, this film is sure to pull at your heart strings and stick in your mind long after the credits roll.
The Green Knight
David Lowery’s modern reimagining of the Arthurian legend is one of the most visual striking and gorgeous films of the year full of amazing production design and breath-taking cinematography. Beyond this, however, Lowery’s brilliant reinterpretation of the quest narrative brings us a compelling character study led by the always incredible Dev Patel as Gawain as he undertakes a journey to face against the enigmatic Green Knight. The film combines medieval fantasy with Shakespearian drama to create a truly unique cinematic experience that elevates the source material to new heights and that is sure to delight fans of cinema and literature alike.
Inspired by the Twitter thread that took the internet by storm, this film is one of 2021’s most bizarre and off-kilter films. Telling the story of Zola, a young stripper, and one outrageous weekend in Florida. The film expertly bounces between tones and employs some truly unusual structural elements that constantly keeps you wondering what is going to happen next. The entire cast delivers strong performances as the outlandish characters with standout performances from Riley Keough as the bonkers Stephani and Succession’s Nicholas Braun as Derrek. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me, Janicza Bravo’s surreal and quirky film is one of the most memorable films of the year. It is a true rollercoaster ride that while often hilarious and satirical, also takes the time to highlight real world issues of race, exploitation and gender.
Tick, Tick… Boom!
Lin Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut is a brilliant character study of the songwriter and Rent creator Jonathon Larson. Carried by an amazing performance by Andrew Garfield, the film explores the highs and lows of the creative experience through the lens of Larson’s original music. The songs are great and the film manages to avoid tired and repetitive tropes of the tortured artist and the film feels fresh, employing an innovative structure. It is a film that wears its heart on its sleeve, being an unabashed celebration of Broadway and musicals and a touching tribute to the late, great Larson. Miranda imbues the film with love and joy and Garfield will definitely be in the running come Oscar season for his fantastic performance in this film that will go down as one of the best musicals of the 21st century.
Inspired by the party game and subsequent video game, this small budget, campy horror comedy film was perhaps the most fun I had while watching a movie in 2021. Sam Richardson proves himself to be a great leading man and the supporting cast, including Cheyenne Jackson and Milana Vayntrub, turn in great comedic performances in this fun whodunnit style mystery film that is cheesy, kitsch and cartoonish in all the right ways. The film is a fun watch from start to finish and actually bolsters an engaging mystery that will have you guessing up until the third act.
Power of the Dog, Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar, Shang Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings, In the Heights, Last Night in Soho
Dear Evan Hansen
Adapted from the stage musical that I am a huge fan of, this film was one of the most frustrating films I have watched all year. Ben Platt is horribly miscast, appearing way too old compared to the main cast and the film seems to be tone deaf to the heavy and very serious subject matter. It loses all the heart of the original musical and the musical numbers themselves are flat and uninspired. Even Julianne Moore and Amy Adams, two of my favourite working actresses, cannot save this film which gets nearly everything wrong from start to finish in a poorly directed, confused and overly long film that is a real slog to get through.
The Sparks Brothers
To paraphrase Mark Kermode, a documentary that works is one that makes you interested in a topic you knew nothing about beforehand. In the case of The Sparks Brothers, I knew very little about Sparks, and in over two hours, I began to love everything Ron and Russell Mael-related. Their enigmatic background and appearances allow for such an insightful and enjoyable cinematic voyage; especially through the realms of a documentary format. Edgar Wright understands the appeal of these brothers and the enthusiastic and passionate contributions from musical contemporaries heightens the sense of intrigue.
Bo Burnham’s visual manifestation of his early 2020 internal monologue/lockdown breakdown is simply iconic.
Could it have been as bad as previous on-screen representations of Princess Diana? Of course. Thankfully, Kristen Stewart does not offer an expected run-of-the-mill biopic display. Instead, Pablo Larraín approaches this story with a tonal assemblage that strays heavily upon gothic horror, and with Kristen Stewart’s subtly powerful performance, the characterisation of Diana in Spencer allows the narrative to become an exploration of a woman trapped within an oppressive dynamic struggling to escape and reclaim their sense of self rather than the film simply appearing as a biopic. You almost forget it is meant to be about Princess Diana and it is one of the dominant forces this film possesses (as well as a typically-chilling Jonny Greenwood score and fantastic cinematography from Claire Mathon).
Another Sparks-related film in my top five. Their songs are bonkers and brilliant (especially ‘So May We Start’). Their story is brilliantly bonkers. Adam Driver as Henry McHenry is energetic and captivating and deserves more plaudits considering the reception to his comparatively muted performance in House of Gucci. Marion Cotillard is a quieter tour-de-force here but her role alongside Driver’s makes you get onboard with Annette’s narrative, as well as believing in the character of Annette, despite her puppeteered on-screen performance.
In my eyes, Prano Bailey-Bond’s debut directorial feature is already a festive Halloween favourite. For a film that requires a strong sense of nostalgia, with its video nasty narrative set amongst an ’80s mise-en-scene, there is no sense of an interfering/over-indulgent artifice. Instead, you are truly engrossed in its world and with Enid’s own personal cause. Niamh Algar, once again, is stellar. The oversized Deirdre Barlow-esque glasses are not distracting because you are gripped with Enid’s personal struggles and her determination to find her missing sister. Censor is a film that will offer up something new upon multiple viewings, I’m sure.
Dune, No Time To Die, Another Round, The Power of the Dog, Sound of Metal, The Green Knight, Shiva Baby, The Human Voice, Boys From County Hell, I Care a Lot
Turkey of the Year:
It’s-a him, Jared-a-Leto in D’House of-a Gucci!
What an excellent and demented trip down memory lane as the wonderfully titled “Videonasties” craze of the 80s sends a BBFC worker into a tailspin regarding a dark secret of her past. There’s an intense and dizzying descent here that’s wonderfully handled, really challenges the lead’s grip on reality and makes us question our relation to art and reactions to its influence. All of this culminating in one of the most bonkers climaxes I’ve ever witnessed, the ending will stay with you.
The Story of Looking
Mark Cousins ruminates over the language, history and texture of visuals as he waits for a cataract operation that could lead him going blind. It’s a wonderfully personal and fascinating musing on what the visual world means to us and how it’s crafted, discussed and absorbed. All told, when not using archived footage, nearly entirely through what looks like a phone camera while Mark lies in bed, a beautiful contrast of still uninspired images to tell you where you should be looking.
The Groundhog Day premise is certainly overplayed-they made a horror film with it recently and all!-so it takes a madcap script and some dynamite performances to make it refreshing, and all they had to do was stretch it passed its breaking point for it to come around again to be profound and fulfilling. Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti have crazy great leading chemistry together, and on top of it being funny as hell it can turn really dark as a reflection of the life choices you make to put you in your own personal time loop. Crazy, creative and sweetly profound, left me with a big grin by the end.
Thomas Vinterberg has an uncanny ability to make his audience reflect on the artifice we structure our lives with and what it means when that cracks. This is no different, focusing on four friends who take on a task of keeping their alcohol levels regulated to see if it impacts their lives. Mads Mikkelsen is on fire here, one of his best performances, and the ambiguity around its commentary on drinking culture really has you washed up for the ride; it could be pro or anti drinking, you’re just here for the story. If the ending doesn’t wow you I don’t really know what to say; methinks we watch movies for different reasons my friend.
Julia Ducournau made her mark as a body horror director with the excellent Raw, and has only come back to make a film even better and more off the wall. A woman with a metal plate in her head that gives you a strange car fixation is forced on the run, and that’s really how things start out. For all its madcap and balmy imagery and presentation, for the most part it’s a slow burning and really meditative look at identity, longing and our differing reactions to trauma, just you know pushed to the nth degree. It also makes the crazy stuff hit all the sweeter, one of the most interesting and satisfying watches of the year
As for this year’s turkey…
Lots of autism depictions are not great, and a lot of the failings of this was put on the feet of Maddie Ziegler being an allistic person cast as a non-verbal autistic girl. But all of this film’s problems lie with Sia; the insulting and dehumanising depiction, the strange and awkward way the musical interludes are added, just the absolute strange and unnatural ways all the characters behave. It’s not even that good of music, which you think she could deliver on! A low point in absolutely everybody involved, down to the black book of celebrity buddies she goaded in for small roles here.
- Licorice Pizza
Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1970’s magnetic romance, sent me straight to cloud nine and made me fall in love with movies all over again. I could watch Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim in scenes together forever…it’s simply meant to be.
Matt Damon ventures to France to prove the innocence of his Daughter who’s in jail for murder. This shaggy detective story/drama is a unique blend of genres that really defies predictability.
3. Mare of Easttown
Kate Winslet just kills it in this series, and the writing is as good as it gets…
4. The Power of the Dog
A candid window into the hardened of hearts of men from another time.
A breath-taking and iconic vision of the future.
- The Mitchells vs. the Machines
If you asked me a few years ago if I would ever recommend a film primarily aimed at kids to everyone, I would have said it would be fairly unlikely. But if 2021 has taught us anything it is to expect the unexpected. And also to just go with the flow! A great film has the ability to allow the viewer pure escapism and this film does just that. More importantly it will make you laugh, genuine deep belly laughs! Great storyline, well developed characters and one you can watch with all ages.
This film not only sees Halle Berry star as a UFC fighter but it is also her directing debut. The film follows the typical training/ sports film arc and flips the male associated tropes of an athlete based drama onto a female character. What is refreshing is that the film does not depict women through the stereotypical lens of caring and nurturing motherly figures.
- Malcolm & Marie
Malcolm & Marie is a masterclass in acting from tour de force actors that are Zandaya and John David Washington. Shot in black and white with gorgeous cinematography, the film allows the viewer an intimate insight into the dynamics of the couple during an argument. Fantastically scripted it is a great insight into the most vulnerable time in a relationship that is usually kept behind closed doors. A beautifully crafted drama that is thoroughly engaging throughout.
- Black Widow
The film that Marvel fans have been waiting for, and by God was it worth the wait. It was sassy, it was funny and in typically Marvel style badass! The fundamental element that made the film work is that the women actually spoke and acted like women! They were flawed, they had issues, they made mistakes and they were realistic and relatable.
- The Dig
Who would have thought a film about an excavation dig could make for such an interesting and engaging film. With great performances from Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes, The Dig transports the viewer to the Suffolk countryside in 1939. The film relies on the small moments between people, the gestures, the kindness and the relationships. The film is extremely intimate and shows how a group of people can come together over a discovery that is bigger than all of them.
1. The Power of the Dog
2. PVT Chat
3. New Order
4. The Velvet Underground
5. Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn
From all the movies that I did see the overarching themes that stuck out to me were secrets and betrayal. From Sandra Bullock’s The Unforgivable to The Power of the Dog, what you see is almost certainly not what you get.
Promising Young Woman
This film is absurd, unsettling, and yet also eerily familiar to anyone who has attempted to date, or simply coexist with the duplicitous. Yes, it’s revenge porn, but it’s also a brilliant exploration of entitlement. Carrie Mulligan masters camp and dry disregard like a John Waters’ star. There are no good or bad people in this film, just individuals who present themselves in certain ways, in certain circumstances, to get what they want. And for that reason, this absurdity is more realistic than any love or horror story I’ve seen in years.
Tick, Tick… Boom!
A biographical musical drama about Jonathan Larson starring Andrew Garfield in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s feature directorial debut? Yes, please! I’m from NYC, and I remember seeing Jonathan Larson’s Rent in the late ’90s and it felt as if I were going to see The Beatles. This film, and that play, capture the uniquely perilous and frenetic energy of that New York better than any other film outside of Kids. Garfield, as always, is magnetic and earnest, and there are fabulous cameos for the theatre crowd. I also adore that this movie centres an effeminate male lead without the movie being about his sexuality, or any labels. This film reminds us why it’s important not to forget people like Larson, or the recently departed Stephen Sondheim played by Bradley Whitford in the movie.
Power of the Dog
In some scenes, it’s as though you can feel the cold Montana air through Benedict Cumberbatch’s ice-cold glare. Kirsten Dunst is at her beguiling best in this family drama, but the film belongs to Kodi Smit-McPhee and a plot twist that kills. I fear I’ve said too much.
Speaking of plot twists, this Iceland-based thriller gives serious ASMR with its hypnotizing grey, green and blue cinematography, and its sensual pacing. The film centers around a childless couple on a sheep farm who stumble upon an unnatural miracle. Noomi Rapace’s mesmerizing performance keeps the wheels on the bus of this unique, endearing and phantastic story.
My review says it all: It feels as though we are all shooting the breeze with our cool, attentive, imperfect, and open uncle Joaquin, and that’s a pretty sweet space to be in.
My least favorite Marvel film of the past decade, if not ever. I was hoping it’d bring Black Panther-like pacing, gravitas, and political relevance, instead it relies on cheap, often offensive lines like “always bet on Asian”— mocking the films that paved the way for this POC cast. This only pours salt in the wound of Awkwafina, who has never apologized for her use of Blackface (her appropriation of African-American Vernacular English for laughs) co-starring in the film. I can only hope that Spider-Man: No Way Home cleanses our Marvel palate.
My film of the year, by a mile, is this non-verbal documentary about the lives of farm animals, directed by Victor Kossakovsky. The world is full of Disney+ ‘nature’ documentaries with celebrity narrators telling us how much ‘the mama bear loves hanging with her cubs’. But animals don’t deserve to live because they can be made to resemble humans by some fatuous sleight of hand, they deserve to live because they are themselves. Gunda is about the alien otherness of animals. It says ‘this thing has intrinsic value’, as opposed to ‘this thing has value because if you tilt it such-and-such a way, it’s a bit like me’.
My runner-up is also pig-related. This is a touching, consistently surprising drama about loneliness. It put me in mind of Paris, Texas in that it’s ultimately about finding a measure of peace in the acceptance that some breaches – in families, in relationships, and in one’s relationship to the world itself – can never be reconciled.
Sound of Metal
I was very moved by this modern reinterpretation of an age-old form – the ‘change of life’ melodrama. It’s performed and made with total commitment, and the sound design is spectacular. There are parts that I imagine work only for director Darius Marder (for instance, the late appearance of Mathieu Amalric, wandering in from an entirely different film), but the theme – that each of us must swim with the current of our lives, rather than against it – could not be more legible. The closing song, ‘Green’ – by Marder’s brother Abraham – is also my favourite of the year.
Dinner in America
The most purely entertaining experience I had in 2021, this film should have been a cult sensation on the level of Ghost World and Heathers. Adam Rehmeier’s comic romance between a seemingly-monstrous-but-secretly-lovable punk singer and his unworldly fan is endlessly quotable, brilliantly performed, and surprisingly erotic. A delight.
The Green Knight
I thought this was maybe David Lowery’s least tonally consistent film, but… I saw it at ten o’clock on a Monday night in an empty suburban cinema and it washed over me like a rapturous wave of liquified Athena posters. Exquisitely scored, visually alluring, and full of ideas – the rarest and most precious commodity in American fantasy cinema. I have a family member who annually re-watches John Boorman’s Excalibur while really, really stoned. I imagine what he sees is something like this.